Land of Opportunity?

From the first settlement of America, there was always the option to pack up, move and start over.  Everyone did it, from immigrants to future presidents (for example, Abe Lincoln).  Most of the time, migration was driven by the search for a better life (the westward wagon trains of the 1800s, the Gold Rush of 1848), sometimes for religious freedom (the Mormon migration to Utah territory), or sometimes by sheer necessity (the Okie migration from the Dust Bowl of the 1930s).  In every case, migration was an important option.

Migration promotes commerce.  People who move spend money on transportation and housing.  Their old homes become starter homes for new families.  Real estate  agents make commissions on sales.  Furniture companies sell to the home buyers.  1479417249793

To some extent, this is no longer true.  When the oil fields in the Dakotas opened a decade ago, some people moved, but not the masses of the past.  Some states (e.g., Maine) no longer have enough working age residents to perform available jobs, but no one is moving to take those positions.  Maine is losing people at a steady pace.

The numbers shown are incomplete.  What we can’t see, because the government doesn’t  report it, is migration outside the US.  Estimates range from 3 million to 9 million Americans living outside the US.  How many are leaving each year?  We don’t know.

I know of a doctor who is sending his children to college outside the US.  Will they return?  I know of a waiter is is moving to Brazil after graduation from school here.  I have former coworkers who live in Europe and have done so for years. I know one teacher who now works quite happily in Saudi Arabia.  Financial publications are advising Americans to retire to Central America, where the lower cost of living makes Social Security go much further than it does in the US.

There are a lot of reasons for emigration from the US:  better job opportunities, better access to health care, better social services, lower cost of education, lower cost of living.

Some countries, notably Canada, have restricted the ability of Americans to migrate there.

The general sense is that Americans have become less mobile, although that might not be true.

  • It could be that modern adventurers are leaving during their college years and the government simply doesn’t know that. The modern counterparts of Sam Houston and Kit Carson have left the building.  How does their absence change our culture?
  • Or conversely, as some analysts seem to believe, people have given up on trying to better themselves.  They no longer believe in the dream.  How does that change our culture?

What you need to know:

Reduction in mobility within the US is going to be a drag on the real estate market.  The volume of sale transactions will decline, and will affect businesses that rely on those transactions.  Conversely, as people stay in homes longer, home improvement business will expand.



  2. Sullivan, Bob, “Why Aren’t Americans Moving Anymore?”  6 January 2017.
  3. von Koppenfels, Amanda Klekowski, “Americans Abroad: A Disillusioned Diaspora?” Migration Policy Institute, 29 July 2015.



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