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January 7: Job growth erodes as housing bust pushes mobility to record low

Source: Bloomberg

Atlanta -- Raul Lopez, laid off from three construction jobs since October 2007, is focusing his search for work near Antioch, California, because his $392,000 mortgage is almost triple the price his home there would sell for today. “If it wasn’t for the house, I’d probably move closer to Oakland, Hayward, San Leandro, places where there are jobs,” said Lopez, 36, who is married with four daughters. The ability to relocate for employment, which helped the U.S. recover quickly after previous deep recessions, is the latest victim of the housing bust. About 12.5 percent of Americans moved in the year ended March 2009, the second-lowest ever, estimates Brookings Institution demographer William Frey, after a 60-year record low of 11.9 percent the previous year.

Local moves may rise “a little bit” in the 12 months that end this March, with long-distance migration “staying flat,” Frey said. “Both will be below normal levels from earlier in the decade.” Some households are staying put because they owe more on their mortgages than their properties are worth; others have trouble selling houses in depressed areas, economists say. The S&P/Case-Shiller composite index of home prices in 20 U.S. metropolitan areas was down 29 percent in October from its July 2006 peak. “One of the hallmarks of America’s labor market is a high level of mobility,” said Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, in a Jan. 3 interview in Atlanta, where he was speaking to an economics conference. “We are about to lose that.” See full story.