Realty Check

Housing Crash Causing Record Stagnation

Lane Oatey | Getty Images

Just over 11 million Americans moved between March of 2010 and March of 2011, according to a new report from the U.S. Census.

That might sound like a lot, but it's actually a record low, down from 12 and a half million who moved the previous year.

The record high was 46 million movers in 1984-85, and you have to factor in that the population has grown immensely since then.

The housing crash has left Americans stagnant, but even worse, it has left homeowners trapped. The decline in the mobility rate of those who already own homes was even more dramatic. Just 4.7 percent of homeowners moved in the past year, down from 5.2 percent the previous year, according to the Census. That translates into 9.7 million homeowners, again a record low.

The immobility of current homeowners is a huge drag on the economy; when you move, you spend money not just on the new house, but on renovations, moving trucks, travel expenses, possible temporary housing, even food when you restock the new refrigerator. There are initial payments, like setting up the new cable, installing the wifi, putting in an alarm system, registering your car in another state. Endless sectors of the economy, and even local government, benefit from American mobility, most of all being the job market itself.

Last week I heard a statistic that a few thousand jobs stood open in the month of October, unable to be filled.

Much of that has to do with the skill set of the nation's workforce, but much also has to do with this lack of mobility.

Homeowners either can't sell their homes or don't want to, both due to the drop in home prices.

One of the nation's greatest historical assets has been its mobility, from new settlers going West to an enviably modern, flexible work force. Unless we can move, our economy is going nowhere fast.

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