Skip to Content

Number of Job Seekers Relocating for Work Has Hit Historic Low. Here’s Why

Employment trends often say as much about job seekers and employees as they do about employers. Slightly more than 10% of job seekers relocated in the first half of 2018, a historic low compared with just over 32% job seekers who relocated for work between 1986 and 1990.

It’s part of a stark pattern that has emerged in recent years, according to a new report published by Chicago-based Challenger, Gray and Christmas, Inc., the nation’s oldest executive outplacement consultancy. The firm’s data is based on a survey of roughly 1,000 job seekers who secured employment each quarter.

There are several possible explanations for the shift in job seeker willingness to relocate, and one reason has far more to do with compensation offered by employers versus employees’ unwillingness to make a potentially risky move. The report notes that when the dot-com bubble burst in the late 1990s, it changed the nature of relocation packages that once-flush companies could offer to attract talent from across the nation.

“That burst led to an increase in job cuts nationwide, and this period seems to delineate the end of the relocation trend,” said the firm’s vice president, Andrew Challenger, in a statement. “As companies found themselves in cost-cutting mode, it seems many chose to find local candidates and spare the expense of relocation reimbursement in the years following.”

Looking even further back, Challenger notes that economic recovery initiatives following the 1982 recession may have fueled a relocation trend that’s been declining since then.

“The one-fifth to one-quarter of workers who were moving to find positions in the late 1990s is nothing compared to what we saw in the mid-to-late 1980s, when nearly one-third of workers were moving for new positions,” he added.

Even as recently as 2000, the relocation rate was 22.9%. That was the last year the rate topped 17%. Since then, the annual relocation rate for job seekers has averaged 12.7%.