For years, many declining industrial cities watched as a steady stream of residents packed up their bags and moved away. Over time, as few people moved in to replace them, these cities became dominated by residents who had grown up in the area or had lived there for most of their lives.
Places like these are marked by people who maintain strong local ties and are generally more civically active, making for distinct communities. To help gauge how deeply rooted residents are in cities, Governing analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey. Factors reviewed included length of housing tenure, whether people lived in the state where they were born and recent migration data. From these measures, several cities emerged as places where residents tend to have deep local roots.
Many of these cities have suffered years of economic decline. Detroit, for example, is home to the highest prevalence of longtime residents of any larger city reviewed. Nearly 40 percent of householders have lived in their homes since before 2000, and three-quarters of residents were born in the state. Eric Guthrie, Michigan’s state demographer, says that by now most of those wanting to leave or who had opportunities elsewhere have already moved out. “These are the people who have been able to weather the recent economic troubles,” he says. “They stay during bad times and are less likely to leave.”
Guthrie says that an area’s economic outlook is an important consideration in whether someone stays or goes, but the decision to move is ultimately a complex one. Poorer families, for instance, often lack the means to relocate or don’t want to leave behind familiar surroundings. Those saddled with negative net equity on their homes are similarly tied down. For wealthier individuals, proximity to family and lifestyle preferences — such as living near outdoor recreation opportunities — may weigh more prominently in deciding where to live. Research suggests that the tendency to move declines the longer a person lives in one place. ….