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Why Do People Move?

Published by Chris Townsend

Why Do People Move?

By all accounts, Americans love to move. Over 30 million Americans move every year, which is over ten percent of the population. On average, we move to a new home 11 times in our life. By comparison, Europeans average four residence changes in a lifetime. (Norwegians and Swedes are notable exceptions to the EU norm, piling up nearly as many relocations as U.S. citizens.) Of the people changing homes in the U.S., most are not going too far, with over 85% staying in the same state and the remaining 15% moving to a different one.

Why do people move in the U.S.?

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the top reasons are:

  • A new or better home (15%)
  • A family reason (25%)
  • A housing reason other than a new or better home (14%)
  • New job or job transfer (9%)

Those family reasons can include both happy and unhappy events. More than 12% of movers cited establishing their household as the catalyst for a move, while 4.4% noted a marital status change. New jobs accounted for 9% of relocations, moving closer to an existing job motivated another 5%, and other job-related reasons added 2.6% more.

So, if you are moving to shorten your commute, how long is that commute? The average commute (pre-pandemic) in the U.S. is 26 minutes one way, which seems relatively lengthy to someone in South Dakota, where the one-way commute is 16.6 minutes. In Wyoming and Montana, residents enjoy an average 17.3 minute commute time. Those are the best overall. The worst average commute time is Washington, D.C., with 43.6 minutes, followed by New York with 35. Factors that prevent people from reducing their commute time include not wanting to move or not being able to find housing that they can afford.

Working from home, but where is home?

This year, with more companies allowing employees to work from home for various lengths of time, workers may relocate as a result. According to the results of a survey completed by Apartment List, 17% of those surveyed were planning to move this year. Renters in urban areas and those who had lost jobs were more likely to declare their intentions to move. Many indicated the motivation was to find less expensive housing and a desire to obtain more room.

Since several large companies like Twitter, Facebook, Uber, and Google have advised employees that they can work remotely until at least the middle of next year, if not permanently, many people are grabbing the chance to establish residence in their preferred locality. Workers who have a newly acquired freedom to work from anywhere may want to take their higher coastal state salary and use it in a flyover state, pocketing the difference. There may be tax implications to this approach, and you could end up paying income taxes to both states. Florida, Tennessee, and Texas have no state income tax, and some states agree to have workers pay tax in the state the employer is in (like New Jersey, which has many residents working for New York-based companies.) Also, your employer may reduce your pay to the level that is competitive in the area you move to, or may not, depending on its policy. Facebook is advising employees that if they move to a lower-cost area, that's fine, but the company will adjust the worker's pay to match the prevailing compensation in that area. Some employers won't allow you to leave the state they hired you in, and some may be expecting you to return to an office-based work routine when it is safe to do so. You should make sure that you have approval for long-term telework before you commit to a move.

A survey by Upwork, a platform for remote and freelance workers, reports that most hiring managers are optimistic about the continued viability of work from home arrangements and think that the workforce will continue to move in that direction. Some business professionals fear the trend will create a two-tier system, in which office-track workers have an advantage in resources and visibility over home-based workers.

Bonus: Moving near family?

Some new work-from-home migrants are taking advantage of the opportunity to move closer to or even in with family members. But how close is too close? While many people prefer to live near their family, they may not want to live right next door. A new survey from Ally Home found that most adults feel comfortable with a 15-minute distance between their home and that of their parents or their in-laws. Close enough to visit, but not close enough to drop in too often. According to the New York Times, the median distance an American lives from their mother is only 18 miles. Less than 20% of Americans live more than a couple of hours' drive from their parents. Families live closest together in the Northeast and the South, and farthest apart on the West Coast and in the Mountain States. In rural areas, it makes sense that distances are more significant, and the West Coast is home to more migrants, so the numbers make sense from cultural and demographic perspectives.

Where do people move after college?

How far graduates move when they finish college depends mainly on what type of secondary school they attend. On average, a student completing a community college won't go far. Over 60% will stay within 50 miles of the school. Graduates of elite schools like those in the Ivy League will head for the big cities and go much further—averaging 700 miles from the university they graduated from. In the middle, state university students usually stay in the same state, within an average of 330 miles from the university they attended, and 40% stay as close as 50 miles from the college they went to.

Do people move when they retire?

While the Census Bureau data indicate that retirement prompts only one percent of relocations in the U.S., the influence may be growing. Transamerica recently conducted a survey that found 38% of recent retirees moved to a new home before or at the time of retirement. Future retirees may buy a vacation home at mid-life and then turn it into a full-time residence when they decide to leave the workforce. For retirees, the factors influencing where to live include the cost of living, access to family and friends, and proximity to health care. While commute times aren’t an issue for this cohort, traffic and weather are important considerations.

Florida has the highest percentage of people over 65 of any state and is a recognized mecca for retirees. Florida has many attractions for those planning to retire or already retired. Besides the weather (watch out for lightning and hurricanes, though), Florida has the most golf courses per capita than any state in the U.S. If you don't care for golf, you can take your pick of beaches and other outdoor activities. Florida also boasts no state income tax, median level property and sales taxes, and leading health care. These factors all contribute to the state's firm grasp on the top spot for retiree preference. Florida cities snagged 4 out of the top 5 and 7 of the top 10 spots in the recent U.S. News ranking of Best Places to Retire.

Chris Townsend is a moving professional and relocation expert that has more than 10 years of experience in the moving industry. With a background that includes working in virtually every aspect of the company, he has distinguished himself as an integral part of our operations with expertise in all things related to moving. Chris has a keen eye for detail and brings intelligence and passion to every project he’s involved with.

While getting his degree in communications from Santa Clara University, Chris started out with the company working in the field as part of our team of professional moving associates. Following graduation, he was promoted to our main office, where he has thrived in a role that involves increasing responsibility and requires him to wear many different hats. Some days, you may find him answering the phone and providing moving estimates, others he may be writing for our moving blog, and another day he may be coordinating a large corporate moving job or helping us with our marketing efforts. Chris has authored many of our in-depth moving guides, as well as provided our clients with information and advice to handle the complexities of their upcoming moving plans. Simply put, there’s nothing he can’t do and we wouldn’t be where we are today without him.

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