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Manhattan Institute

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When Moving Matters: Residential and Economic Mobility Trends in America, 1880-2010

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When Moving Matters: Residential and Economic Mobility Trends in America, 1880-2010

November 10, 2015
EconomicsIncome InequalityEmploymentOther
OtherCulture & Society

Abstract

In recent years, observers across America’s political spectrum have expressed concern over declining residential mobility and its implications for economic mobility in the United States. There is a widespread belief that Americans’ economic mobility has declined and that Americans are also less likely to “move to opportunity” than in the past. These two assertions have been linked to argue that falling residential mobility is an important factor behind diminished economic opportunity in America.

Key Findings

  • The bulk of research on U.S. economic mobility—focused on earnings, income, occupation, and education—suggests very little change since at least the mid-twentieth century.
  • While the share of Americans having moved in the previous year has fallen since the 1970s, this paper finds that other types of residential mobility are now as high as they have been in 100 years or more.
  • Though not lower than in the past, U.S. upward economic mobility remains low; and certain disadvantaged groups, including the less educated and African-Americans, are less willing, or able, to move to economic opportunity.

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