A lot of Americans are committed to staying close to home—but that doesn’t mean all of them are happy about it. The newest Heartland Monitor Poll considers where Americans live, and how they feel about their place. Responses were mixed, as The Atlantic‘s Gillian White reports:
Those who hail from rural areas and small towns were more likely to report staying in one area for multiple decades than their peers in larger metropolitan areas. Southern inhabitants were more likely to pick up and to move in 5 years or less, while those in the Mountain and Northeast regions were more likely to stay put.
Even though most Americans said that they liked the general direction their local areas were headed in, respondents had mixed feelings about the opportunities available in their areas for young people. Fifty percent of respondents said that they would not recommend their local area, while 42 percent said they would. City dwellers were the most apt to see their area as best for young people, with more than half saying they’d tell them to settle down there, while those in rural areas were less likely to encourage young people to come to their neck of the woods. … Even though they are aware of the problems in cities and towns where they live, most Americans aren’t considering moving any time soon. Sixty-one percent of respondents said the probability of relocation was not very likely—with 41 percent saying it wasn’t likely at all.
A lot of people make decisions to move (or not move) based on job opportunities. Also, there’s the college dynamic: higher-educated young people are more likely to pick up and move, either before or after they finish their education. As the New York Times noted last October, “about a million [college graduates] cross state lines each year, and these so-called young and the restless don’t tend to settle down until their mid-30s.”
Staying put—fully inhabiting, loving, and stewarding the place in which you live—is a conservative idea in many respects. It’s interwoven with the idea of civic care and involvement, the importance of commitment to the political, economic, and cultural wellbeing of a community. But it is also, increasingly, an option that makes financial sense. Although metropolitan areas offer more jobs and higher salaries, they also often mean exorbitantly priced housing and longer commutes, as well as expensive groceries, household items, and childcare.
That said, being mobile and moving to a new place also offers greater independence, financial security, lifestyle options, and economic incentives. City dwellers live in a vibrant intellectual and cultural environment, with a plethora of restaurants, theaters, and museums at their disposal. They can spend more time with their peers: the city is more likely to be overflowing with young, like-minded professionals than small-town Iowa is. New buildings, attractive downtowns, and thriving commerce areas are all more likely to be present—and will contrast starkly with America’s ghostlike heartland towns.
It’s tough to make a case for the small town, and it’s tough to stay in a small town. So why do people do it?
White talked to Marilyn Brown, a woman who’s decided to stay in Cleveland despite growing crime and lack of opportunity. “I don’t have a great big family. We’re all right here together,” she told White. And in addition to the family incentives, White writes, “Brown’s reticence is partially because she doesn’t think that a move would eliminate the hassles she faces in Cleveland, but instead just introduce different ones. ‘Everybody is having problems with one thing or another.’”
Many people have realized that mobility takes a long-term toll on their family and community life. Not only that, moving to a place for recreational or consumeristic purposes is a sapping and exorbitant lifestyle choice, in a time when employment opportunities are still tenuous, especially for younger Americans. Staying “close to home” is more attractive when you know that there will be a safety net, a support group, and a community in that place—to help you even through times of financial difficulty.
But Brown’s answer also reminds us that there is no such thing as a perfect place. We will never live in the city or town of our dreams. The grass will always be greener on the other side of the fence. That’s why committing to a place—its people, its quirks, its flaws as well as its strengths—is one of the most freeing options we have. It is in planting ourselves that we can learn to thrive.