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Trading Spaces: Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

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Most people move at some point in their life. The average American changes his or her residence 11.3 times. We are all in motion. The nation does not stand still.

Major transitions in our lives are often accompanied by a residential move. Many people wrestle with the decision. Do I stay? Do I move?

Can I afford to own a home? Does my neighborhood still feel safe? I want to live closer to my family, but will my commute be too long? Will I have more job options if I move to a new city? Is there some place I would be happier?

The answers to those questions are never concrete, altered by every action and reaction that constitutes each day in a life. We attempt to make our best guess, using the information that we have available.

Most of the time we are only thinking of how these moves affect us, our immediate family, our jobs, our finances. We do not think about how these individual migration decisions affect the larger community of service providers, schools, employers, transportation planners and governments. Each of these entities attempts to use the data available to make the best guess as to whether you will move and how that choice will affect you and them.

Just less than 12 percent of the population of the United States moves to a new residence each year. Multiply your complex decision process of whether to change residences by about 35 million – or the estimated number of movers between 2013 and 2014, according to the Current Population Survey. The result is an unfathomable combination of discrete decision processes.  Anyone considering a move knows it can be a difficult decision with lots of planning involved. The same is true for those measuring migration, as we try to meet the challenges of anticipating the who, when and where of moving.

This week, the Census Bureau released a set of data products on geographical mobility. The products provide insight on the dynamics of residential moves and some of the reasons that people choose to, or choose not, to move. Each demonstrates the breadth of information on migration available while highlighting a unique aspect of three different surveys.

The majority of the data released this week, and the most current, come from the Current Population Survey, which has provided a measure of the nation’s yearly migration rate since 1948. Its strength is in its consistency and longevity — it measures the reasons people move and the physical distance of those moves. The American Community Survey measures annual migration and it enables examination of your community as well as progress and change at a local level. The Survey of Income and Program Participation is a longitudinal panel survey. Collecting data from the same households over several years provides a unique portrait of the true dynamics of the movement decision process. Over time, it shows what factors propel us in one direction or another.

The trading of space, or the flow between an old residence and a new residence, is another dimension of the movement process. The Census Bureau collects this type of data across these surveys and provides aggregate flows for certain geographies. Depending on your interest, you can examine moves between states, moves between counties, and later this year, moves between metropolitan areas. The Census Flows Mapper, based on American Community Survey data, is a unique visual tool that allows you to map county-to-county flows, with and without unique characteristics.

Knowing the number and some details about movers in and out of a place is part of information on the population that helps the federal government plan for emergency services following natural disasters. State and local planners use migration data for population forecasting and deciding where to put new hospitals, libraries and public schools. Private businesses use it to plan for opening new offices and stores for jobs and commerce. How you think about the decision to move affects not only you but also how well your community and your nation can serve your needs. The information you provide is critical to the health and welfare of this “nation on the move.”

Learn more about the information you provide on migration, which assists in national and local decision-making and forecasting, at www.census.gov/topics/population/migration.html. In addition, if you are looking to move, the Census Bureau has an app for that. Download dwellr today to find your ideal place.

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