Slightly more Americans changed residences in 2012 compared to last year, according to data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2012, 36.5 million Americans (age 1 year and older, to be precise) moved, an increase of 1.4 million people compared to 2011. That translates into a mobility rate of 12%, which is an improvement over last year. But it’s still historically low. Based on Census data that goes back to 1947, the average mobility rate over time is closer to 17.5%, meaning that new-home builders still face a headwind in many markets. 

Why did Americans move in 2012? Here’s what they told the Census, with comparison data for 2002. 

Family Reasons

· Their marital status changed. (6.3% in 2012 vs. 6.1% in 2002)
· They wanted to start their own household. (10.7%  vs. 7.6% in 2002)

· They had another family reason for moving. (12.3% vs. 12% in 2002)

Job Reasons

· They got a new job or their job was transferred. (9.5% in 2012 vs. 10.5% in 2002)
· They wanted to look for work or lost their job. (1.8% in 2012 vs. 2.3% in 2002)
· They wanted to be closer to their work and have an easier commute. (5.5% in 2012 vs. 3% in 2002)
· They retired. (.5% in 2012 vs. .6% in 2002)

· They moved for another job-related reason. (2.1% in 2012 vs. 1.6% in 2002)

Housing Reasons

· They wanted to own their own home. (4.7% in 2012 vs. 10.5% in 2002)
· They wanted a new or better home or apartment. (15.9% in 2012 vs. 18.8% in 2002)
· They wanted a better neighborhood or a neighborhood with less crime. (3.4% in 2012 vs. 4% in 2002)
· They wanted cheaper housing. (8.9% in 2012 vs. 5.9% in 2002)
· They were evicted or foreclosed upon. (2.2% in 2012; this was the first year that the Current Population Survey asked about foreclosure/eviction as a reason for moving.)

· They moved for another housing reason. (14.4% vs. 10.4% in 2002)

As the numbers show, a few motivations for moving are still as important today as they were 10 years ago—such as a change of marital status, retirement,  or “another family reason”—but others are significantly different.

 Easier commutes were more important to movers in 2012 than they were in 2002. So was starting one’s own household. But the data also suggests a few challenges for builders as they connect with today’s movers: many want to lower their housing costs and far fewer are moving because they became homeowners. 

Lastly, Americans who moved in 2012 didn’t go far. Most (64.4%) who changed addresses stayed within the same county. Nearly 12 million packed up their belongings for a new county, but they too stayed close to their previous home, with 40.2% of those intercounty movers going fewer than 50 miles to their new residence.