Housing Slump Has Americans Moving Less A new Census Bureau report shows that fewer Americans are relocating now than at any time in the past six decades. If you're interested in moving to a new home, but cannot because of the bad economy, tell us your story.
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Housing Slump Has Americans Moving Less

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Housing Slump Has Americans Moving Less

Housing Slump Has Americans Moving Less

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NEAL CONAN, host:

Remember go west young man? The United States has always been a nation on the move. Until now, as the economy slows and the housing slum continues, the Census Bureau reports the lowest residential moving rate since the agency began tracking that statistic 60 years ago. Have your friends and families reconsidered a move? How is this playing out where you live? Give us a call 800-989-8255, email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site, that's at npr.org click on TALK OF THE NATION. This is the kind a question where we turn to Bill Bishop, the author of "The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is tearing Us Apart".

He also writes on the Daily Yonder blog and he lives in Austin - at least for now. And he joins us there from member station KUT. Nice to have you on the program again. And Bill Bishop, are you there? And we're trying to get Bill Bishop there from the studios of KUT in Austin, Texas. I'll read in the meantime from the press release that was sent out by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Census Bureau announced today that they national mover rate declined from 13.2 percent in 2007 to 11.9 percent in 2008. The lowest since the bureau began tracking these data in 1948. In 2008, 35.2 million people one year and older changed residences in the U.S. within the past year.

That represents a decrease from 38.7 million in 2007 and the smallest number of residents on the move since 1962. Even - and Bill Bishop, I just heard you there.

Mr. BILL BISHOP (Author, "The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is tearing Us Apart"): Yes, hello.

CONAN: Hi Bill, how are you? Good to talk to you.

Mr. BISHOP: I'm fine Neal. How are you?

CONAN: We apologize for the technical problems there. But I wanted to ask is this - what does it mean that fewer of us are moving?

Mr. BISHOP: Boy, it - I guess we'll find out. We don't know exactly what it means. I mean it could mean a lot of things. I mean it's interesting. In some places - we've been tracking unemployment in rural areas, and there's just a huge differential in where unemployment is high and where it's low. And one of the strongest indicators is that the places where fewer people have - more people have left, have lower unemployment rates right now up in Great Plains and the Midwest. So, it's a change from where - I guess movement has been declining for some time but what our interest has been is that the movement has not been random overtime.

Rich people go one direction, poor people go another. Democrats go one direction, educated people go another direction. And we have been moving to - our movements have shaped our politics and shaped our economies. And the question is will that continue?

CONAN: Right. And ethnic groups move different numbers too.

Mr. BISHOP: Yes. And there's some differences here and the latest results - all the studies previously show that young people, educated people, were the most likely to move. And in the last year, poorer people have been most likely to move.

CONAN: That's an interesting change. This obviously - we saw a lot of the results of the effects of these kinds of movements on a broad scale in last year's elections. We saw the South become ever more prominently red in places like Louisiana and Oklahoma being redder than ever. And then we saw places like Nevada and even Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado becoming bluer.

Mr. BISHOP: Right. And parts of Colorado - part of Colorado got redder and you could track people coming into Colorado who came from Democratic counties and they would move to Democratic counties in Colorado making them bluer and Republicans would move into red counties making them redder. And so the question is where we continue that kind of sorting out that we've seen over the last couple of decades. But - and the other question is whether that sorting out will continue to change economies. I mean I live in Austin which has benefited from this influx of highly educated people. When that - if that tap is turned off, really the source of growth for the economy is turned off to.

CONAN: Well, what kind of trends are seeing? There's been - historically - again, in very broad terms - you're interested much more, and very interesting specifics - but very broad terms, places like the Northeast, the Rust Belt, moving south to places like Florida and Southwest.

Mr. BISHOP: Right. And it looks like those trends have continued. They're just muted. And we should say here that still, a heck of a lot of Americans move every year from - still, you've got about four percent of the population moves every year from one county to another. And, in other words, they're not just trading houses within a community. They're making a move that has some meaning. So, you know, that's 11, 12 million people a year even at this reduced rate. That's still a bunch of people.

CONAN: And how does that compare, by the way, with, well, say European countries?

Mr. BISHOP: That's a good question. I don't know the answer to that. I suspect we move a lot more. We have more space. I mean, Mesa, Arizona now is one of the top 30, 35 cities in the United States. And 30, 40 years ago, I mean, Mesa was not in that group. I mean, we've created cities where none existed before, and our space has allowed us to do that. And Americans are great at finding geographic solutions to their problems.

CONAN: Well, let's see what is happening with our audience. What is happening to you? Are you making a decision to move, reconsidering a decision to move? What's happening with your friends, your family, your neighborhood? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org.

Let's start with Paul, Paul with us from Oxford in Michigan.

PAUL (Caller): Hi, there.

CONAN: Hey. Go ahead, Paul.

PAUL: (unintelligible) here that I'm having to move, I mean, I can't get a job here at all. And I'm having to move to Canada where there are jobs.

CONAN: And whereabouts in Canada are you moving, Paul?

PAUL: London, Toronto, somewhere in that area.

CONAN: So, in Ontario?

PAUL: Ontario. Yeah. I'm moving to Ontario, which, it's only two hours across the border for me. And thankfully, I'm one of the people who has citizenship. So…

CONAN: So it's not going to be a problem in that respect. But what about the other people in your area who don't have that option?

PAUL: Most of the people are just battening down. They can't even afford to move anymore. They're just trying to make do with what they have and live on whatever they can get. I mean, some people are doing real well, but a lot of people in my immediate neighborhood, you know, they've watched their houses go down up to a third of what they were and they can't afford to sell. They can't afford to move. They're just kind of locking everything down and hoping they can make it last until they can either get out or until something gets better.

CONAN: Bill Bishop, Michigan - one of the hardest hit areas in the recession. Well, it's pretty hard hit even before the recession started.

Mr. BISHOP: Yes. Both rurally and the cities. And, you know, it's interesting. It used to be - I would talk to young people all the time who would move to cities. They didn't have jobs. They didn't have - they had a couch they could sleep on, and they just figured they'd find employment. And it's sort of enabled this kind of - a lifestyle move and moves that promoted people self expression. And now, as Paul's describing, I mean, the moves are much more economically oriented, and maybe that's why poorer people are more likely to move during this last year than those who are richer.

CONAN: He also is describing a situation with people's houses that, I think, affects places other than Michigan. People have just - even if they wanted to move, have a hard time selling the house.

Mr. BISHOP: Right. Right. And so, how does this, you know, what does this do? I mean, earlier, when gas prices were high, we could see that people were - housing became more expensive, closer to the city, because people wouldn't have to drive as much, spend as much on gas. Now we have this whole other economic situation that's tossed in on top of that. And making predictions, as we now know, is a tough thing.

CONAN: Paul, what business do you work in?

PAUL: I'm in computers, computers and networking. And most of my work has been supporting people in the auto industry. You know, people talk about the auto industry as being - that's the end-all business. They don't realize that there is a huge tail of people who deliver their pizzas or work on their computers. And all of my customers are now out of jobs, which means I'm out of a job.

CONAN: Well, we'll be sorry to lose you, Paul. And good luck in Canada.

PAUL: Well, my mom's staying here because we can't - she can't afford to sell her house, so she's going to be fighting it through. And I'm going to be sending what I can back from Canada, and I'll be back.

CONAN: Okay, Paul. Thanks very much for the call.

PAUL: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to Susie, Susie with us from Chicago.

SOPHIE(PH) (Caller): Hi. This is Sophie in Chicago.

CONAN: Okay. Go ahead.

SOPHIE: Hi. So I actually experienced this on a two different sides of issue. One is that I was interested in finding a new career and making some changes in my life. And while I love the city of Chicago, I wanted to look for a job in a different place. I completely rethought that and decided that even if in this economy I could find a job in another city, the odds of that company suddenly having layoffs and me losing it was a poor decision since I had something secure right now and I'm thankful for it. And then on the flip side, I've seen members of my family who have lost their jobs and then are willing to take, you know, are not interested in moving, but are right now willing to take a position that's six, seven hours away just so they can make sure they're continuing to make ends meet.

CONAN: And might I ask your age?

SOPHIE: I'm 23.

CONAN: Twenty-three. So that's one of those young people that you were talking about, Bill Bishop.

Mr. BISHOP: Mm-hmm. Right. Right. I mean, we sort of - it's almost Maslow's hierarchy of needs, right? I mean, if your economic situation is taken care of, then you can make a decision like our caller did to move to a place that - for lifestyle reasons, to make a change.

SOPHIE: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BISHOP: When economic uncertainty gets stronger, then you begin to worry less about, you know, self expression and more worried about just making ends meet.

CONAN: And Susie, what business - excuse, Sophie(ph), what business do you work in?

SOPHIE: I work in general management in industrial supplies.

CONAN: In industrial supplies. And that's - your company's still doing well?

SOPHIE: Definitely seeing a downturn compared to past years, but it's - the company's doing well. And it's a private company and it's very committed to taking care of all of its employees.

CONAN: Well, then, you're in luck, I think, a lot of people would say. And…

SOPHIE: Yeah. I'm very thankful, which is why I'm scared of moving right now even if I've considered it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Okay. Well, good luck to you.

SOPHIE: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Bye-bye. We're talking with Bill Bishop, the author of "The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart." And we're talking about new figures from the Census Bureau that shows fewer of us are moving than we have, well, at any time in the last 60 years.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's talk with Camille(ph), Camille with us from Richmond.

CAMILLE (Caller): Yes. Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Camille. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

CAMILLE: I was just calling. We were actually relocated to Richmond, Virginia from Lincoln, Nebraska just over a year and a half ago. And last September, we bought a house. We were just starting to get settled, and my girlfriend was let go from her job about a month ago. So she worked mainly in science and clinical research, and it's nearly impossible. She's having so much trouble finding a job. But the research triangle is right down in North Carolina, so she's looking at a three-hour commute if we stay here, you know? So…

CONAN: That's brutal.

CAMILLE: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CAMILLE: So I took on another job. I'm working three jobs, and we're just waiting for her to find anything. So…

CONAN: And do you now regret the move from Lincoln?

CAMILLE: Absolutely not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CAMILLE: But it's definitely been a long month, you know? So…

Mr. BISHOP: Why don't you regret the move? What is the reason?

CAMILLE: It was - my girlfriend had grown up in the Midwest. I did not grow up in the Midwest, and both of us were looking to get out of, you know, the Midwest just for a change. And so, we definitely don't regret the move and the research are the - what she gained from the job taking the promotion and coming out here really will help her resume and stuff if we just…

CONAN: If anybody's hiring?

CAMILLE: Yes, exactly. That's exactly right. So…

CONAN: Well, Camille, we wish you and your friend the best.

CAMILLE: Well, thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's see if we can go now to - excuse me, let's see if we can go now to Dana, Dana with us from Oak Park in Michigan.

DANA (Caller): Hi. How are you doing, Neal?

CONAN: Good. Thanks.

DANA: Yeah. I mean, like a lot of your callers are saying, especially the one from Oxford that called a little bit ago, Michigan unfortunately is not going anywhere. I have two other roommates that I'm living with right now, and two of us have college degrees, and we really can't do anything with them up here. We're actually in the process of getting everything together to move to Orlando, Florida and try to relocate to see if we can possibly find some jobs down there and see where we can go with grad school, because, really, up here, it's really depressing.

CONAN: All right. You'll find lots of housing available, I think, in Florida.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DANA: Well, there's a lot of housing available here, too. Unfortunately, there's nobody to finance it for a lot of our friends and family.

CONAN: More young people moving away from Michigan now, Bill Bishop.

Mr. BISHOP: Well, people are moving away from Michigan, period. I mean, the unemployment just all across the state in Michigan is really remarkable.

CONAN: Dana, good luck.

DANA: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email from Michael in St. Louis. Companies don't have to relocate new hires. There are so many good or good enough candidates locally that relocation is unnecessary. People cannot afford to relocate themselves to take a job, also can't sell their homes, tethering them more tightly.

That first reason hasn't been mentioned so far. A lot of times, people do move because they get hired and the company wants them to move to St. Louis or California or Florida or wherever. And as Michael suggests, that, well, maybe they don't have to do that now.

Mr. BISHOP: Yeah. But it's interesting. Pew did a survey last - or early this year, I believe, and they found that four out of 10 Americans say they're likely to move sometime in the next five years. So we're still this nation of people who are looking for something and feel that a change in our geography will fulfill us somehow. And, you know, it's a part of the American character that isn't going to go away.

CONAN: And going along with the tenets of your book, do you believe that people are still moving - Democrats moving into blue communities, Republicans to red communities, Christians to Christian communities, blacks to black communities, whites to white communities?

Mr. BISHOP: No, they definitely are. We checked - Bob Cushing, who I worked with on the book, checked the IRS records between the last election and this one, and you could see just this incredible differentiation in movement in the - and it really is an economic switch. In counties where - that it had increasing Republican vote, people - the average family that moved in since the last election made about $38,000. In counties where - that got increasingly Democratic, the people that moved in since the last election made about $49,000. So there's this real split. Richer people, people with higher educations are moving into counties that are getting more Democratic, and the exact opposite is happening in Republican counties.

CONAN: And the old impression of the country club Republicans - the party of the rich - well, those numbers suggest that's completely been turned on its head.

Mr. BISHOP: It's - the New Deal order has been turned on its head.

CONAN: Bill Bishop, thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. BISHOP: Thank you.

CONAN: Bill Bishop joined us today from member station KUT in Austin, Texas.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, it's SCIENCE FRIDAY. Join Ira Flatow for the scoop on our springtime allergies. Plus an update on the ailing Mars Rover Spirit, and the video pick of the week: skunk science.

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This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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