People Move Back to Cities With High Unemployment

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Among the cities that people are moving to in extraordinary numbers are ones that had terribly high unemployment during the recession. Perhaps the economies in these cities have improved markedly. Perhaps many people in these cities have stopped looking for jobs, thereby reducing the numbers aggressively looking for work.

Whatever the reason, if population movement is any sign, these badly battered cities have begun to show improvements, or, alternatively, a number of people are absolutely wrong about their future financial prospects.

Among the top 10 cities on the Penske Truck Rental’s 2013 Top Moving Destination List are Tampa, Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas. All had unemployment rates well above the national average when the economy reached its bottom. The list is rounded out by Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Seattle, Denver and Chicago.

The presence of the Texas cities should be expected. Texas added jobs through much of the recession. Its mix of industries, led by energy, did relatively well during the catastrophic period. Unemployment in Texas was 7.6%, well below the national average. Unemployment in Colorado, the population of which is dominated by Denver, reached 7.7%, also well below the national average.

The story in Florida was very different. Unemployment reached 10.5% in 2009, and in some of its largest cities the figures were 2% higher than that. The unemployment rate in Nevada reached 11.8% that year, and in Las Vegas the housing market was worse than in any large city in the United States.

An evaporation in construction spending caused much of the collapse of the job markets in Florida and Nevada. Those home markets have not come back entirely, and in some cases have a long way to go. Maybe cities burned in the recession represent lands of opportunity now, partially because home prices have stayed relatively low. If so, much of that opportunity is in the future of these cities, which means people relocated may know something most other people have missed. Or, they are wrong.