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GO-NOWHERE GENERATION: Why Young People Are Stuck

Mandi Woodruff

moving america brookings chart

Brookings: "The Great American Migration Slowdown"

At a time when young Americans have never been more connected, they sure have gotten used to staying put.

The chance that 20-somethings would pack up and move to another state has fallen by more than 40% since the 1980s, according to U.S. Census data. At the same time, young people are increasingly choosing to move back home with their parents and, in some cases, never leave in the first place.

"Sometime in the past 30 years, someone has hit the brakes and Americans — particularly young Americans — have become risk-averse and sedentary ," Todd G. Buchholz, author of “Rush: Why You Need and Love the Rat Race," wrote in a controversial NY Times piece. " Today’s generation is literally going nowhere. This  is the Occupy movement we should really be worried about." 

Economically speaking, there's never been more incentive to do whatever it takes to find work. Workers aged 18 to 24 have a 16.8% unemployment rate, more than twice that of the national average.   Meanwhile, states that have plenty of jobs to go around are resorting to bribes to lure people across state lines. 

South Dakota spent $5 million on recruiting efforts to attract 1,000 skilled workers. The state has a 3.8% unemployment rate.

Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon, and South Carolina each ran a 12-month pilot program to help state leaders better match worker skills with local job needs, according to Pew. Georgia has already launched a program meant to put unemployed workers in apprenticeships and Pennsylvania looks poised to follow.

mobility states brookings graph

Brookings: "The Great American Migration Slowdown"

So why aren't young people biting?

Economists have been scratching their heads about the immobility of Generation Y for some time. Some have blamed high moving costs (e ven those who have landed jobs may be too underemployed to save for a move) , while others have pointed to data showing that workers have been sticking with jobs for longer periods of time. Perhaps living through their first recession was too much for young people to handle, making them much less willing to take big risks like leaving the security of their hometowns . 

" There are emotional and psychological costs to uprooting your life and starting fresh in a city without social or professional connections," writes the Atlantic's Derek Thompson. "You need some degree of bravery of certainty that things will work out. Today, young people have less economic insurance to bet on a big move." 

Buchholz caught some flack for insinuating that Facebook played a role in young people's waning interest in getting outdoors. But technology can at least be partially blamed for taking some of the "curiosity" and "adventure" out of moving. What's so special about driving a couple hundred miles when you can click a button and peek into just about any corner of the world?

In that case, maybe it's not motivation but inspiration that young people need.

"College students are taught to think in terms of a 'career' that you pursue by actively seeking opportunity, not just a job to look for locally," writes  Slate's Matthew Yglesias.  "We ought to be finding ways to inspire the same spirit all across the educational spectrum."


Photo: Brittani Kirsch

Brittani Kirsch, 22, moved to North Dakota with her fiance in 2012 after struggling to make ends meet in her hometown of Traverse City, Mich.

Getting unstuck can pay

After graduating from high school in 2009, T raverse City , Mich. resident Brittani Kirsch, now 22, was the epitome of Generation G0-Nowhere. Languishing under the pressure of college tuition, she worked two to three minimum wage jobs at a time to make ends meet. After her first year of school, she dropped out altogether.  

She was stuck, and so was her  fiancé, Nick. 

"At the time we were making like $7.40/hour apiece [in Michigan]," she told Business Insider. "We had to do something. We were just going on faith." 

In early 2012, the couple packed up their car and drove 1,200 miles to Williston, North Dakota. Yes — that Williston, North Dakota.

"At first I couldn’t believe that we were actually going to move," she said. " But we just heard about all the jobs there were out there and we weren't making money [back home]."

The couple rented a camper for $740/month and gave themselves a month to find jobs. It only took them two weeks. 

Nick landed a position as a senior-level manager at a s alt water disposal plant.  Kirsch prowled a local jobs site to find a spot as a bank teller at  First National Bank & Trust — a real coup for a woman in a male-dominated town like Williston, she said.

"Men get most of the high-paying jobs out here, while for women, there's Walmart and restaurants," she said. "So I'm grateful I found an actual job I can have a career in." 

Not only were they both employed, but Kirsch had doubled her wages and Nick's salary, which was four times his old take-home pay, came with the added bonus of company-provided lodging.

The move was worth it despite certain costs. Kirsch admits she misses balmy summers spent lounging at the many lakes surrounding her hometown and says Williston could do with more attractions than just bars. It goes without saying that winters there are hard to bear. 

At the same time, more young people are arriving all the time, and she's made friends through her coworkers at the bank. 

"H onestly, I'm kinda feeling like wherever this [move] takes us, I'm happy with it," she said. "If we can stay here and establish a family, I'd be happy with that to. We're just riding the wave."

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