Economic mobility and geographic mobility have been closely linked for much of American history, so economists find it troubling that migration rates have been in decline lately. The proportion of Americans moving has fallen to new postwar lows in the past few years. According to Census Bureau data from 2013, about 4.8 million Americans moved across state lines in the previous year. That is down from 5.7 million in 2006 and 7.5 million in 1999. All in all, the percentage of Americans moving across state lines has fallen by about half since the 1990s.
The slowdown represents a tectonic shift in our economy and labor market: It has affected a huge swath of Americans across all industries and of all incomes and ages. Even immigrants to the United States are more likely to stay put where they first settle than they were 30 years ago. But economists are divided on why that is and on what it all means — and especially on whether a less-mobile labor force will mean a more sluggish economy.