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Levy, Brian L.; Mouw, Ted; & Perez, Anthony Daniel (2017). Why Did People Move during the Great Recession?: The Role of Economics in Migration Decisions. The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 3(3), 100-125. PMCID: PMC5439978


Labor migration offers an important mechanism to reallocate workers when there are regional differences in employment conditions. Whereas conventional wisdom suggests migration rates should increase during recessions as workers move out of areas that are hit hardest, initial evidence suggested that overall migration rates declined during the Great Recession, despite large regional differences in unemployment and growth rates. In this paper we use data from the American Community Survey to analyze internal migration trends before and during the economic downturn. First, we find only a modest decline in the odds of adults leaving distressed labor market areas during the Great Recession, which may result in part from challenges related to the housing price crash. Second, we estimate conditional logit models of destination choice for individuals who migrate across labor market areas; we find a substantial effect of economic factors such as labor demand, unemployment, and housing values. We also estimate latent class conditional logit models that test whether there is heterogeneity in preferences for destination characteristics among migrants. Over all, the latent class models suggest that roughly equal percentages of migrants were motivated by economic factors before and during the Great Recession. We conclude that fears of dramatic declines in labor migration seem to be unsubstantiated.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences


Levy, Brian L.
Mouw, Ted
Perez, Anthony Daniel