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Is Relocation a Flight of Fancy?

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Would you relocate to another state for a job?

Despite all we hear about high levels of unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment, the answer is often no.

The number of Americans who move has decreased since 2000, according to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. And the rate of moves to a different state has been decreasing since the 1980s. The researchers attribute the decline less to demographics–such as an aging population–but to changes in the job market.

People who do move are less likely to say they did so because of a job, says Peter Cappelli, the George W. Taylor Professor of Management and director of the Center for Human Resources at The Wharton School and the author of Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It.

One reason for the change, writes Capelli, is the rise of long-distance commuting. People who do accept jobs in different states often endure long weekly commutes. I know a women who lives in Baltimore with her family and commutes to a job in Manhattan every week, and another who drives three hours from Connecticut to New Jersey on Tuesdays, stays in a corporate apartment for two nights, and drives home on Thursday. They are hardly alone.

It’s Not Entirely About the Money

While the recession meant a lot more people were out of work, it also left many without the financial resources to relocate, or dependent on a spouse’s job or social network.

Some companies do still offer relocation packages. One 2013 survey by Challenger found that 40 percent recruited potential candidates from outside the local area due to skill shortages, and almost 80 percent said their company offers some type of relocation package.

But for many, those packages either don’t exist or aren’t enough. The simple truth is that employees no longer view jobs as long-lasting. Many are reluctant to uproot their families for what might be a short-term position.“But I think the bigger reason is just that jobs don’t last that long anymore, and everyone knows it,” says Cappelli. “The costs of moving are up-front, and they are big.”

The financial impact of moving is only part of the equation. Moving also means have to develop a new social and professional network. Often a spouse has to make a job change as well. If the job disappears in a year, or three, or five, it will be more difficult to land the next one.

We may still be highly mobile society, but in the sense of spending a lot more time in a train or on a plane.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and, among others.