Monday, June 06, 2011

The Age Of Return Migration

Nothing says recovery like relocation does. We expect the economy to get better in a geographically uneven pattern. As demand for workers in those lucky places picks up steam, everyone should leave Las Vegas and move to Salt Lake City. That's the theory. The Great Recession continues to be an outlier:

What's striking about the census data is that more people are moving to Kansas and Missouri at a time when we don't seem as mobile as we were 60 years ago.

Nationwide, only 3.5 percent of Americans moved to a different county between 2009 and 2010, the lowest percentage since 1947-48 when the Census started tracking how we move. In 1950-51, about 7.5 percent of Americans moved to a different county.

Experts blamed the slowdown on the mortgage crisis, high unemployment and young adults who want to move but can't afford to with the economy in the tank.

"I think there's a pent-up demand for migration among these young folks," Frey said.

"They're either living with their parents, or spending time in a place they don't want to be, and they're waiting to get a place in the suburbs they can't afford or can't get financing for."

A winner in this restructured migration landscape is Kansas City. The main anecdote of the above article concerns a couple leaving Dallas for the comfy confines of where they grew up. They can manage a suburban mortgage in KC.

Return migration is also less risky. A network of family and friends will smooth the transition, help with finding work. More affordable greenfields aren't the only attraction. Urban and edgy are popping up in unexpected places such as Omaha:

The movie theater, Film Streams, is a marvel. It's brand new, gorgeous and only plays sophisticated independent films. Next door is the Slowdown, which Esquire called the best indie-rock club in the country.

The Slowdown — like Film Streams and almost everything in Omaha that's very cool — is very new.

While I was there, I met several architects and web designers who all said they moved back to Omaha, at least in part, because of this club and the movie theater next door.

They're part of a remarkable wave in Omaha: Professionals are moving back.

Apparently, we've entered "The Age of Return Migration". It's deleveraging and gentrification on a grander scale. Young folks from around the country aren't streaming into Omaha. I wouldn't hold my breath, either. If they get up the gumption and the means to move, I would think an established destination (e.g. Portland, Oregon) to be more likely.

That said, both Omaha and Kansas City won't lack for newcomers. People from elsewhere in the Great Plains will feel at home in the region's best performing locations. Likewise, I predict that the Rust Belt return will entail a substantial number settling in an area different from where they were born. Outsiders, whether they be foreign-born or from the next county over, are vital to these demographically challenged communities. Otherwise, cynics and skeptics will run amok.

1 comment:

Matthew Hall said...

Omaha is the most resolutely unurban and unedgy place I have ever been. I would even say Omahans are generally anti-urban and anti-edgy. Downtown Omaha at 9pm on a Saturday is less happening than the mall parking lot in Wheaton, Maryland. Everything is relative.