A modestly growing number of Americans are moving out of state to get a job, a development that could cut unemployment and better match workers with positions, staffing officials and reports say.
Since the recession began four years ago, many Americans, including the unemployed, have been unable to move because they can't sell homes that have fallen in value and are worth less than their mortgages. And employers have been reluctant to pay relocation costs in an era of tighter corporate budgets.
A lack of mobility helps keep unemployment high, since laid-off factory workers in Indiana, for example, can't seek open jobs in North Dakota oil fields. In a Manpower survey last year, 26% of U.S. workers said the recession made them more willing to move, vs. 19% who were less willing. Obstacles to mobility still exist, but they're slightly less daunting, officials say.
"We're starting to see (candidates) open up the job search to make sure they find the right position," says Janette Marx of staffing firm Adecco.
In the 12 months ended in March, 4.8 million, or 1.6% of Americans, moved to a different state, up from 4.3 million the previous 12 months, the U.S. Census Bureau says. That's still a meager total: In 2002, 7.6 million people moved between states. But the number had been falling since 2005. Most interstate relocations are likely job-related, says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics.
Atlas Van lines said this month that its interstate residential shipments in 2011 jumped 7.7% from 2010, vs. a 4.3% rise the previous year and steep drops in 2008 and 2009. "You're (turning a strong economic headwind) into a tailwind," Zandi says.
Americans are moving a bit more freely due to a strengthening job market that offers more out-of-state opportunities, he says. Also, in the past six months, many more firms are paying most relocation costs after refusing to do so in the downturn, says CEO Ryan Carfley of recruiting firm Personify.
Housing is still dismal, with 22.1% of borrowers underwater, owing more on loans than the homes are worth as of Sept. 30, CoreLogic says. But more lenders and borrowers are agreeing to sell homes for less than the mortgage debt, freeing borrowers to take jobs elsewhere. In October, 8.9% of sales were short sales, up from 6.7% a year earlier.
Deborah Melbinger, 33, quit an interior-designing job in Fort Myers, Fla., amid that state's real estate crash and sold her townhouse last year for a third of what she paid. That let her take a similar job in Wausau, Wis., which she says had more openings.