- Associated Press - Thursday, October 27, 2011

Yet another symptom of the economic downturn: Americans aren’t moving.

Young adults are staying put, often with their parents. Older people aren’t able to retire to beachfront or lakeside homes.

U.S. mobility is at its lowest point since World War II.

New information from the U.S. Census Bureau highlights the continuing impact of the housing bust and unemployment on U.S. migration, after earlier signs that mobility was back on the upswing. It’s a shift from America’s long-standing cultural image of ever-changing frontiers, dating to the westward migration of the 1800s and more recently in the spreading out of whites, blacks and Hispanics in the Sun Belt’s housing boom.

Rather than housing magnets such as Arizona, Florida and Nevada, it is now more traditional, densely populated states - California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey - that are showing some of the biggest population gains in the recent economic slump, according to the data released Thursday.

Residents have been largely locked in place. Families are stuck in devalued homes and young adults are living with parents or staying put in the towns where they went to college.

“The fact that mobility is crashing is something that I think is quite devastating,” said Richard Florida, an American urban theorist and professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. He described America’s residential movement as an important element of its economic resilience and history, from development of the nation’s farmland in the Midwest to its coastal ports and homesteading in the West.

“The latest decline shows we are in a long-run economic reset and that we never really recovered - we’ve just been stagnating along,” Mr. Florida said.

About 11.6 percent of the nation’s population, or 35.1 million, moved to a new home in the past year, down from 12.5 percent in the previous year. The current level of low mobility comes after the recession technically ended in mid-2009, beating a previous low of 11.9 percent in 2008.

It is the lowest in the 60-plus years that the Census Bureau has tracked information on moves, dating to 1948.

The share of people moving has been declining for decades, in part because of increases in two-income families that are more tied down by jobs and to an aging population that is less mobile. The peak for U.S. mobility came in 1951, when it hit 21.2 percent. The rate had leveled off at around 13 percent before falling off notably in 2008 during the recession.

Among young adults 25 to 29, the most mobile age group, moves fell to 24.1 percent from 25.9 percent in the previous year.

Longer-distance moves, typically for those seeking new careers in other regions of the country, remained largely flat at 3.4 percent.

The biggest drop-off occurred in local moves, down to 15.4 percent from 17.7 percent in 2010. It’s a sign that young adults in the prolonged slump weren’t even willing to venture outside their counties, continuing instead to live with relatives or on college campuses.