The Go-Nowhere Generation Speaks: 'I'd Love to Move, but I Can't'

More

Here's what we know about moving in America: We're not doing it like we used to. The share of single people and families moving between states is the lowest in half a century.

But why? We cannot hope to know why 150 million households -- or 300 million Americans -- choose to move or not move across the country to find a new job or to make a new start. There are too many variables to name. But we can start to count them: Jobs play a role. Income plays a role. Affordable housing, and good schools, and cost-of-living, and urban culture, and space -- all these play a role.

When we wrote about this "go-nowhere" trend in our article Generation Stuck, we received hundreds of responses from movers and non-movers across the country. Our first batch focused on the the movers. This collection of reader testimonials focuses on the non-movers, but listens to the movers, too. Keep writing.

'THERE ARE NO JOBS AVAILABLE!'

Young people aren't moving to "job centers" because there are no jobs available for them!  There is little incentive for a college graduate with $400 monthly college loan payments to move to a city with high rents where jobs are hard to come by and pay is in the $10-15 range.

'Laid off 4 times in the past 6 years...'

I'm a single renter and I 'work' in pharma. I've been laid off 4 times in the past 6 years and I still know people who've had it worse.

Should I pack up my belongings and chase a job all the way to Boston? Should I leave behind my social and professional networks and start all over again? Will I just be laid off in another 6 months as a newly-minted nobody without a support structure around me? When I see a position in another city all I can think is 'what would it be like to be unemployed there'?

'Moving is risky'

Moving is a risky endeavor. Moving gives a possibility of better income, but at the loss of networks of people that have built up over the years. Americans have become more and more risk averse when it comes to safety (how could you think of letting your 10 year old bike the neighborhood unsupervised?!) and maybe this desire not to take risk has moved to the decision to move.

Another part of the puzzle is that the country has become more homogeneous over the years. The difference in economic opportunity between the town and the big city is smaller than it used to be. Also many entertainment and cultural events are more likely to occasionally to roll into SmallTown, USA than they once were. And technological marvels -- internet, cell phones, and the like -- are just as accessible in Flyover country as they are in big cities.

'People don't want to live like vagabonds'

Older people have to deal with selling their house and moving their family. Tough stuff, certainly, but they go with their families. That's a huge bonus.

Young people go alone. Not like college, where they met a campus full of new friends their age. They go to a whole new life to start from scratch and build up a social life the hard way. It's not hard for every young person, but for many it is. Particularly the ones that have built up a social structure in their current town.

This may seem easy for you, but that's you. Not many people want to live like migrant workers or vagabonds, shuffling to wherever the jobs are every 5 or 10 years.

'I'd love to move. But I can't.'

I'm a 20-something with a BA who would love to move away from my current location. But I can't. Why not? I can't afford to, at least not without a job offer in hand. And most employers won't even look at resumes submitted by people who don't already live in the area, at least not for the types of positions I'm qualified for. For a while, I was using my friend's address on my resume, to make it look like I already lived in the city I was trying to move to, but that required repeated 5-hours-each-way drives from my place to his, often on short notice, for interviews, which quickly became unaffordable. But I keep sending out resumes, and networking, in the hopes that I'll find one of the few employers who's willing to consider me.

'28, with a Master's, deep in student loan debt...'

One of the biggest hindrances is the difficulty of finding a job in another city. You are fighting such an uphill battle as an out of state candidate.  Employers generally are not willing to pay relocation costs at all, so that sets up roadblocks for out of state candidates, regardless of education or training.  Ask any employer and I'd wager most will tell you, why wait for someone out of state when you have multiple candidates much closer?  Not saying it's impossible but it's an uphill climb.  Combine that with the uncertainty you mentioned, you basically need to move without a job and hope for the best. 

As a 28 year old with a Master's, I am deep in student loan debt.  That isn't a complaint, it's just a fact.  With car bills, living costs and then student loans its tough to save up for a move.  

'MONEY IS THE ISSUE'

As an underpaid young person who would love to move, money is the issue. Finding the 4k-5k to actually move somewhere and put a security deposit down and all the other costs that come along with moving, is very difficult. Being deep in student debt with bad credit, like so many of us, means my selection in where I can move is also limited. Its hard to move when you can't get approved to move in and don't make enough to save the money needed if you could get approved.

'Since 2007, I have lived in New New York City, Tucson, Damascus, Amman, and Oxford'

Since I graduated from college in 2007 I have lived in New York City, Tucson AZ, Damascus, Amman, and now Oxford, and I can say that beyond the financial costs of moving (which are high - I've definitely spent hundreds on new drinking glasses alone!) there is a cost to your own ability to measure progress. Every new place represents a start from zero: you need to find a new gym, figure out which supermarket has the best produce, realize that you are living in the wrong neighborhood and have to switch apartments. This is all while you try to build a new social network. A friend who moved from New York to LA put it this way: "I went from having to schedule dinners a week in advance to thinking, 'thank God Grey's Anatomy is on tonight so I don't have to kill myself'." And constantly bringing yourself back to zero means depriving yourself of the opportunity to being the person who knows the area, is well connected, and can enjoy the fact that they've established themselves. I'd argue that it's the settled, established people who are able to affect their communities for the better. 

This article about "Generation go nowhere" represents a tragedy of our generation, for sure - the widespread belief articulated by the authors that all motion is productive. Some of it is just flailing.

Generation Stuck starts with college

As the cost of college increases students seek out cheaper alternatives. Because of arcane residency requirements, these students are stuck attending in-state schools in their "home state," meaning the state where their parents live. In-state schools often lack the national reputation of more well-known private universities which means the area of potential employment shrinks to the "home state." No wonder the kids aren't picking up and moving. 

MARCEL PROUST WAS RIGHT

I'm a millennial who graduated with a philosophy degree in May 2008, 4 months before the world ended. I was able to land a job (ironically) in the mortgage business. After a year of holding down a boring job, I decided to follow a girl from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, where she would be starting an MFA program in film. In my 18 months in Los Angeles, I worked a total of seven jobs/unpaid internships (from social media to law to finance to pizza). I realized that all the fish tacos in the world couldn't compensate for a dirty, unfriendly, and car-addicted city. I've been back in beautiful Minneapolis for a year, biking everyday to the same boring job I had before, but I now I understand a part of what Proust meant when he wrote, "the true voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."

'Moving delays your life'

I'm doing what I can to make up for all these stuck twenty-somethings. I think the key to my success was that I also moved to go to college. While most people from my small Connecticut town (ranked as the #1 town with the most people born in town, i.e. no one ever escapes) stayed relatively local, I packed my bags and headed to Rochester NY.

From there, I had an almost three year stint in Phoenix --as much as I hate the place now, if you have a degree in a high demand field it's a great place to get started living on your own. I've now been in Seattle for about a year.

My fellow twenty-somethings, the time to move is now! Move before you get married, before you get stuck working at one company for too long, before you build up a social network too big to give up. Get out there, experience the world (or at least another region of the country), and figure out where you really truly think you'll be happiest living. Make a plan to get there. If it doesn't work out, try again. There's nothing sadder than seeing someone you grew up with still stuck in your hometown, with a dead end job, and with no hope of ever getting out.

While I've enjoyed and learned a lot from living in 4 different metro areas between the ages of 18 and 25, there are plenty of downsides to consider. Moving delays your life. Throwing away your professional network, your career, and your friends and family to move to a place with better job opportunities is rough. Rebuilding all that (minus family) takes a long time. Making new friends, finding new hobbies, even things you might not consider like finding new doctors, switching from one local bank to another, etc. A lot of people, when they don't have financial freedom and aren't sure if they're going to keep living where they are, won't want to go out and make new friends, find a girlfriend, etc. Why go through all the trouble if you might have to throw it all away again?

So there's my lengthy anecdotal story as someone who refused to be a part of generation stuck.

'I moved to Australia ... I cannot see myself moving back'

Since arriving in Australia, I've been employed at 3x the income I had in my best job in the US and my 'benefits' are built in to employment (retirement savings) or becoming a permanent resident (Medicare). I am making my US student loan repayments and still have money for other things (from mortgage payments to travel) and I honestly cannot see myself moving back.

'Most of us are broke'

Because most of us are broke (as in, we literally can't afford to move somewhere else, and very few jobs pay for relocation) and we're generally too apathetic about finding work (if I can't find a job in my home town, where I've lived my whole life, what makes you think I can find a job in Ancorage/SF/LA/etc?).

I for one am extremely lucky to have a well paying (although not necessarily reliable- its temp to hire) job, but it took me 3 years to get it. Before now, I couldn't keep a job for more than three months because of layoffs.

BLAME THE PARENTS

Personally, I think this generation's lack of desire to move is a direct result of insecure parents who don't WANT them to move.

The helicopter parents who've sheltered and protected them all their lives continue to do so, well past the time it's beneficial for the fledglings to move on and out on their own.  A very, very odd reaction to the divorces of the 60's and 70's (on the part of the helicopter parents--they're terrified of their children experiencing any of the insecurity they did when their own parents split up).  If the kids didn't have quite so cozy a cave with all-bills-paid, they very well might move on and make a life.

Adolescence is extending into the 30's.  Long-term implications?   Probably a move back in time, back to multi-generational households as a simple economic necessity. 

Not such a good sign for America's historic economic competitiveness, since, unfortunately, the most intellectually productive years are from 18-40 (or to early-50s for the best doctors and lawyers).

'Hawaii is awesome ... except the schools and the cost of living'

My wife and I have been strongly considering moving...for about 6 years now. We live in Hawaii. Hawaii is awesome, the best weather you'll find in the USA, great people, most activities you'd like to do...all around great place to live. Except the schools (we've got kids now) and the wage/cost of living ($4 gas wasn't news to us..not for a long time). The other driving factor is the family (who all live out east). 

The hard part for us is the risk (of finding new jobs..how long will it take, how much will they pay, etc) of moving, coupled with the overall preference for Hawaii (it really is the best state). We have a lot of pressure from family (especially the grandparents) to move, as well as some serious cost considerations (a trip to visit the family costs us all of our vacation time + about 3k). Aside from the risk (and we'd be fine, we're both educated and skilled professionals), the other hard part: deciding where to move. No place on the east coast (we need to be near the ocean..why anyone would choose to live in a landlocked area is beyond me) really excites us.  There really isn't any point in uprooting just go be on the west cost..Anyway, the biggest consideration to me is the economy. While I'm certain that we'd both find jobs..would they pay as well as the ones here? Would we like them as well? Its very hard..made doubly so by having children in tow.

THE CASE FOR STAYING PUT: 'It's easier to deal with insecurity with a support network.'

I loaded up my car and moved out west to California back in 2009. I had a job back home, but it was going nowhere and I was pretty motivated to move to a place that had a little more going for it. I spent about 3 months applying for jobs online with little to no success. In the current economic climate most if not all companies are totally unwilling to assist in any way with relocation, and tend to favor local candidates as a result.

I weighed the pros and cons of my situation and decided it was worth the risk to me to leave my job, family, friends and home to relocate to somewhere nicer. I was quite unhappy where I was, so I had a fairly strong motivation to change things up. It certainly wasn't cake and pie to arrive in a foreign city with no job prospects, no firm living arrangements, no friends or connections of any kind, as some of the (presumably older) posters have insinuated.

I did manage to make it work, and I am glad it worked out as well as it did, but I can certainly empathize with more risk-averse peers. There are some who may not be living their ideal life, but aren't unhappy enough to take the drastic steps required to pack up your life and try again somewhere else.

One glaring omission from the Times article is the change in job security from previous generations. My father worked with the same employer for 30 years before retiring. I experienced my first lay-off within 1 year of graduating from university. I work in biotech, and I would say about 90% of my colleagues in my age bracket have experienced at least one lay-off, merger, bankruptcy or some kind of massive restructuring. I've had 3 different employers in the 2 years since I moved to California, and while I've never been out of work for very long, I can't even begin to fathom the notion of retiring with my current employer. At the current rate, I guess I should anticipate around 25 more employers before reaching retirement age. It's much easier to deal with insecurity when you have a well established support network. Why give that up just to be left floundering alone in some far off city?

'Drowning in student loan debt and no place to find a job'

My older sister and I are drowning in student loan debt and have no place to find a job. And unlike her, I would move to place for a job but there's no place on the planet that has a guarantee that you will get one (with a living wage) when you get there! If there was I would've been there by now!

'I'M TIRED OF BEING BLAMED FOR BEING CAUTIOUS'

People commenting on how easy it is to move need to consider that different fields foster different opportunity options. A job that has openings in one city may not in another. They also need to understand that everyone is coming from a different background. Some people have safety nets, some don't. Some people have health problems to factor in, some don't. Some are willing to take big economic risks, others aren't. Some have family to support, others don't.

I was raised in poverty because my father's medical bills were a constant financial burden. I fear being poor again. My willingness to quit my job and make a go in another city is very low as a result. I also love my job and my connections. My quality of life is good here, even if I am scrounging to get by.

The idea that making decisions based on these factors and deciding to remain where you are is a mark of irresponsibility, foolishness, laziness, or lack of enterprise is offensive and reductive. We can enrich and lift up our communities. We are doing our part by working and supporting one another. It's big business, government, and the rich that aren't putting in what they've taken out, and frankly, I'm tired of being blamed for being cautious in the uncertain times that the generations before me helped create.

'It doesn't make any sense for me to move'

I moved across the country for law school, only to find the legal market I entered horribly oversaturated.  Having graduated from a top-10 law program, I'm now making $36,000 a year and have $165,000 worth of student debt.  I'm guessing that makes me one of the group of educated but underpaid workers the author is talking about.

The thing is, it just doesn't make sense for me to move.  I don't have enough money for a security deposit and two month's rent for a new apartment, much less enough money to ship my furniture to a new city.  Additionally, because hiring in the legal field is strongly dependent on reputation and local connections, so it's not clear that I could improve my job prospects even by moving to a less saturated legal market that I have fewer contacts in.  Finally, I'm turning 30 this year, and I'm getting to a point in my life where trying to build a new community and meet a whole new set of likeminded people - all while working to pay down my debt - just sounds exhausting.  I fear that if I did move, I would just end up lonely and isolated for the foreseeable future.  For all of these reasons, moving to a new city just does not seem like a realistic option.  I suspect that at least some other of the pool of workers the author is talking about shares these concerns.

'Follow your heart'

After receiving my BBA from a Virginia public university in 2008, I moved back in with my parents in Northern VA for a couple years while I worked in the hospitality industry (commuted two hours a day and loathed every minute of it). While living at home, I was able to save money and travel whenever I had an opportunity. On one trip, I randomly met my boyfriend at the University of Wyoming while he was in the midst of working on his PhD in Geophysics. Sparks flew and a long-distance relationship emerged. This turn of events prompted me to quit my job to pursue the life out west I'd always dreamed of.

I packed all I could fit in my car and ended up moving to Laramie, WY (small town of 30,000, fifty miles from the nearest city) almost two years ago. I spent five months unemployed until finding an hourly job to make ends meet. After countless, hard to come by interviews, I finally landed a new job working in hotel sales making more money than my previous job in Virginia - in an area with a significantly lower cost of living.

Although I know we won't be here forever, I know moving across the country in my 20s was one of the best choices I ever made. The friendly atmosphere, five minute commute and gorgeous views of wide-open spaces are refreshing. My cliché advice to other young people considering a cross-country move - follow your heart.

'A BOAT IN STAGNANT WATER'

How about the types people that would move within their particular city to a better apartment or house, but cannot now due to the economy?  I'm stuck in that particular boat in stagnant water.  I have been living in the same cramped apartment for 8 years with a room mate, not much of a step up from the type I lived in as a kid, hoping to find the magic solution that will get me out. Maybe it's because I haven't gotten married yet (at 29) or because I've yet to find a better job to support the move (working on that) but the dream is still out of reach. Maybe it doesn't help that I live in a city that people are actually moving TO, and said demand has caused rents to rise to levels unheard of before the 21st century dawned on the Big Apple.

Interesting times, indeed.

>

Jump to comments
Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In