Economic slowdown is part of a continued drop in the mobility of all Americans.

The bad economy has caused aging Baby Boomers who dreamed of retiring in the sun near Florida beaches or Arizona deserts have hit a speed bump.


The number of Americans ages 55 to 64 who moved to Sun Belt states since the economy began to tank has declined dramatically, according to a USA Today analysis of Census data released Tuesday.

The slowdown is part of a continued drop in the mobility of all Americans. Only 11.6% — 35 million — changed residence from 2010 to 2011, the lowest rate since the Census Bureau began collecting the statistics in 1948. In the mid-1980s, more than 20% were moving each year.

Two primary reasons for historic lows in all types of moves — within the same county, to other counties and other states: “The recession and mortgage meltdown,” says William Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution.

The oldest of 77 million Boomers who had fueled a rush to “active adult” communities throughout the Sun Belt are staying put because they can’t sell their homes or can’t afford to retire.

“There’s economic uncertainty in all areas,” says Deborah Meyer, chief marketing officer for PulteGroup, the largest developer of 55-plus communities such as Del Webb and Sun City. “Even though desire is as high as ever, they’re delaying. … The volume isn’t what it was.”

The dismal job market also has kept young people, typically the most mobile of all age groups, in place.

“College graduates are stuck in the mud,” Frey says. “Young people are putting their lives on hold.”

The Census data also show:

  • Colorado stands alone among Western states in continuing to attract retirees and young professionals. Largely because of relatively low unemployment rates, the Denver metro area ranked first in net migration of young adults from 2008 to 2010, up from No. 12 in the mid-2000s, says Cindy DeGroen of the state’s demography office.
  • Most people move for housing reasons rather than family or jobs. For the first time, the Census has identified those related to foreclosures or evictions: 1.2% in 2011.
  • For the first time since the turn of the last century, more than half of California residents are natives. Of the non-natives, more are born abroad than in other states. “It looks a lot more like California in 1900,” Frey says.
  • Despite the displacement of thousands of residents after Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana continues to be the state with the highest percentage of people born there — 79% in 2010.

States that are attracting fewer out-of-staters are seeing their native population creep up since 2000. Native-born Arizonans increased 3 percentage points to 38% of the population.

Nationally, the percentage of people living in the state of their birth dropped from 60% in 2000 to 58.8% in 2010.

  • Net migration to a group of counties across the country that are primarily retirement magnets fell 70% last year, according to an analysis of IRS data by Kenneth Johnson, demographer at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute.

“The effect of the recession is pretty stunning,” he says.

In response to the slowdown of Boomers moving, PulteGroup has designed an online calculator that allows prospective buyers to tally real estate taxes, monthly payments, utilities and other costs for each of the company’s developments.

It is also expanding development outside the Sun Belt, recognizing that some retirees don’t want to move far from children, grandchildren and friends.

The Carolinas have emerged as the preferred retirement destination, according to Del Webb’s most recent Baby Boomer survey, a finding backed by Census data. North Carolina continues to gain a net of about 9,000 retirement-age residents every year from other states; South Carolina, about 6,000.

At the peak of the good times, Nevada was gaining more than 4,000 people ages 55-64 every year. Since the housing market collapsed, it has been gaining about a fifth as many.

Photo credit: CBS Miami

Via USA Today