Recession keeps formerly mobile work force in place

WASHINGTON — Single and unemployed, Adam Holguin of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., knows he could find better job opportunities outside his home state, where the unemployment rate is 12.3 percent. But with little savings, and college loans and credit card bills to pay off, the 31-year-old says relocating out of state is something he can't afford.

"I don't have the finances at this time to move," he said.

One of the American worker's hallmarks has long been mobility — the speed with which people like Holguin have pulled up stakes and moved for the sake of better opportunities. That mobility has been an important source of the nation's economic vitality, assuring a ready supply of workers where they're needed.

But the recession of the past two years has produced a profound change, creating conditions that tethered many more people where they are and making mobility difficult or even impossible.

Since 2007, the nation's mobility rate has fallen to its lowest level since World War II, says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.

Frey and other experts believe that the U.S. will eventually return to the traditional patterns of robust mobility and migration. But as the nation struggles out of the recession and hiring slowly resumes, there are signs that many people will remain flat-footed, held back by their home mortgages, personal finance and age.

For employers, that means workers may be harder to find and thus likely to be costlier.