April 2013

Declining Migration Within the US: The Role of the Labor Market

Raven Molloy, Christopher L. Smith, and Abigail Wozniak


We examine explanations for the secular decline in interstate migration since the 1980s. After showing that demographic and socioeconomic factors can account for little of this decrease, we present evidence suggesting that it is related to a downward trend in labor market transitions--i.e. a decline in the fraction of workers moving from job to job, changing industry, and changing occupation--that occurred over the same period. We explore a number of reasons why these flows have diminished over time, including changes in the distribution of job opportunities across space, polarization in the labor market, concerns of dual-career households, and a strengthening of internal labor markets. We find little empirical support for all but the last of these hypotheses. Specifically, using data from three cohorts of the National Longitudinal Surveys spanning the 1970s to the 2000s, we find that wage gains associated with employer transitions have fallen, possibly signaling a growing role for internal labor markets in determining wages.

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Keywords: U.S. migration, trends in migration, internal labor markets, job mobility

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Last Update: June 26, 2020