In 1865, Horace Greeley said “go west, young man,” and, for a century and a half, men and women, young and old, were keen to listen. Even into the early 2000s, the sunbelt stretching into the suburban southwest fattened with new housing developments—ultimately, to disastrous effect. But in the last decade, the ambition to go west has been replaced with a lazier notion—to “stay put.”
“Americans are moving far less often than in the past, and when they do migrate it is typically no longer from places with low wages to places with higher wages,” Tim Noah wrote in Washington Monthly. “Rather, it’s the reverse.” Why America lost her wanderlust is not entirely clear—perhaps dual-earner households make long moves less likely; perhaps the Great Recession pinned underwater homeowners on their plots—but those still wandering aren’t going to the right cities.
When Greeley suggested a westward move, he wasn’t making an argument for sun and gold. He was, above all, suggesting that young people escape from areas with expensive housing: