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U.S. Residents on the Move Again, Census Bureau Says

A road runs through a development in St. George, Utah in this file photo. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg
A road runs through a development in St. George, Utah in this file photo. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg

May 10 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. residents are on the move again, though they’re typically not moving very far.

In 2009, 12.5 percent of Americans moved to a new residence, the U.S. Census Bureau said today. That’s up from 11.9 percent in 2008, which was the lowest rate since the agency began tracking the data in 1948.

It’s the first increase in the measure since 2005, ahead of the real-estate collapse and the worst recession since the Great Depression. The census numbers may reflect a thawing of the housing market, said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based workplace consulting company.

“Some people who were stuck in their homes and couldn’t move even for a job on the other side of town with a long commute are beginning to take those jobs because they can find mobility that a more liquid housing market offers,” Challenger said.

The Census Bureau data show that 37.1 million people, age 1 year or older, changed residences in 2009, up from 35.2 million in 2008.

Roughly two-thirds of those movers -- 67 percent --remained within the same county, the Census Bureau said.

The level of those moving longer distances, such as from one state to another, was essentially unchanged.

“It takes greater confidence -- or desperation -- to make that longer move,” Challenger said.

Housing Crash

While the proportion of people moving has gradually declined since the 1950s and 1960s, the rate had leveled off to about 14 percent before the housing crash.

U.S. housing prices are showing signs of recovery after a slide that sent values to levels last seen in 2003 and left almost a quarter of homeowners with properties worth less than their mortgages. The S&P/Case-Shiller index of home prices in 20 cities rose 0.6 percent in February from a year earlier, the first annual gain since December 2006, according to a report April 27.

Renters were five times more likely to move than homeowners in 2009, and people living in poverty were also more likely to be mobile.

By region, those in the Northeast had the lowest mover rate (8.1 percent), followed by the Midwest (11.6 percent), the South (13.7 percent) and the West (14.8 percent), the Census Bureau said.

Western Exception

All regions except the West, which had a 1.6 percentage-point increase, were not significantly different in 2008 and 2009.

Principal cities within metropolitan areas experienced a net loss of 2.1 million movers, while the suburbs had a net gain of 2.4 million movers, the Census Bureau said.

People most often cited upgrading their housing as the main reason for moving.

About 17 million movers (46 percent) said they wanted to own a home or live in a better neighborhood. Other reasons for moving included family concerns (26 percent), employment needs (18 percent) and other factors (10 percent).

To contact the reporter on this story: John McCormick in Chicago at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Flynn McRoberts at

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