Move Out of Your Parents’ House and Save the Economy

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Whatever happened to wanderlust? Over the years, Americans in their 20s have grown less and less likely to move away from their home states. During the recession era, young adults have becoming increasingly unlikely to leave even their parent’s homes, let alone move out of state. If and when the nation’s young workers finally do get a move on, though, the economy should experience major boom times.

It’s no mystery why so many young Americans are now living with their parents: What with unemployment rates high, and the jobs that are widely available to young workers tending to be those with meager salaries (and few or no benefits), more of today’s young adults are too poor and ill-prepared to leave home and head off on their own.

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But why, as authors Todd and Victoria Buchholz asked in a recent New York Times op-ed, don’t more young people consider moving around the country to states where the employment situation is better?

Young Nevadans who face a statewide 13 percent jobless rate can hop a Greyhound bus to North Dakota, where they’ll find a welcome sign and a 3.3 percent rate. Why are young people not crossing borders?

We Americans like to think of ourselves as an especially mobile, adventurous bunch. But since the 1980s, the likelihood of an American in his or her 20s moving out of state has declined by more than 40%. The proportion of young adults living with their parents, meanwhile, doubled in the two decades before the Great Recession occurred. Once the recession hit, of course, the numbers spiked.

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Why have so many young Americans stayed in the nest? Granted, the nest is probably a lot more plush, with a less intrusive atmosphere than it was a generation ago. The Buchholzes point to one usual suspect—the Internet, which seems to be correlated to fewer young people getting driver’s licenses—as well as a general malaise among the masses:

Generation Y has become Generation Why Bother. The Great Recession and the still weak economy make the trend toward risk aversion worse. Children raised during recessions ultimately take fewer risks with their investments and their jobs. Even when the recession passes, they don’t strive as hard to find new jobs, and they hang on to lousy jobs longer.

There are some who say that the current situation, in which high percentages of young Americans are underachievers living in their parent’s basements, will be the norm for some time to come. The New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki doesn’t agree with this take, however. He sees the rise in extended stays in the nest as a cyclical change in response to the economic downturn, not a permanent change:

The good news is that when this trend reverses there will be a spike in demand, both for housing, especially rentals, and for all the stuff that you put in a house.

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Of course, the trend cannot change overnight. Nor is it likely to change simply because loads of young Americans will suddenly get sick of mooching at Mom & Dad’s B&B. Without more jobs—and more better-paying jobs—many 20-somethings won’t really have the option of moving out, or moving away. At least they have the Internet, though.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.