WASHINGTON — Their lives on hold for years, young adults are now making big moves in the fledgling economic recovery, leaving college towns or parents’ homes and heading out of state at the highest rate since the height of the housing boom.
New census data released Thursday offer a detailed look at US migration as mobility begins to revive after sliding to a record low last year.
The latest numbers show that young adults 25-29 are the primary out-of-state movers; they had the biggest gain in 13 years as they struck out on their own to test the job market in urban, high-tech meccas such as Washington, D.C.; Denver; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; and Austin, Texas.
In contrast, groups that showed some of the most movement in the housing boom of the last decade (2000-2010) — working professionals, families, and would-be retirees — are still mostly locked in place, their out-of-state migration levels stuck at near lows due to underwater mortgages and shrunken retirement portfolios.
The demographic shifts, which analysts say could continue for many more years, are once again rejiggering the housing map.
Out are the super-sized McMansions in far-flung suburbs and in the sprawling Southwest, which helped drive rapid metro area growth in the early to middle part of the last decade in places such as Phoenix; Las Vegas; Orlando; and Atlanta. In are new, 300-square-foot ‘‘micro’’ apartments under consideration for wider development in dense cities such as New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle, which are seeking to attract young, single adults who value affordable spaces in prime locations.
‘‘Footloose young singles are forming the leading edge of the coming migration wave,’’ said William H. Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer who reviewed the numbers. He attributed the recent jump in mobility to pent-up demand among young adults who now are ready to ‘‘move on a dime’’ to land a job opportunity.
‘‘We will see their migration rates swell even higher if the jobs become more plentiful,’’ Frey said. ‘‘Families, older professionals, and retirees will be latecomers; they have more financial baggage and will need to make more careful decisions about when and where to move.’’
Richard Florida, an American urban theorist and professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, called the mobility gain an important sign the US economy is getting back on track.
‘‘Young people are moving out of their parents’ basements and sampling places and sampling careers again,’’ he said. ‘‘After living at home for a while, young people have kind of maxed it out. They are heading to bigger, vibrant cities, predominantly, because they’re looking for economic opportunity and building their social networks.’’
About 1.7 percent of the US population moved across state lines to a new home in the 12-month period ending March 2012, up slightly from 1.6 percent in the previous year.
The share of young adults ages 25-29 who moved to a new state was higher, about 3.8 percent. That’s up from 3.4 percent in the previous year and the highest level since the height of the housing boom in 2005, when mobility was 5 percent. The 0.4 percentage point increase in 2012 is also the biggest jump for young adults since 1999, when the rapid rise of Internet startups and the need for young workers during the dot-com bubble drove migration.
Among Americans 55 and older, out-of-state moves dipped from the previous year to a low of 0.7 percent. At the height of the housing boom, interstate migration for this group reached well over 1 percent, due mostly to baby boomers opting to retire early to residential hot spots in the South and West.
According to the latest data, some of the biggest winners in recent years have been states such as California, Massachusetts, and New York. The states were able to reduce much of the annual losses they suffered in domestic migration during the housing boom, when residents left in mass numbers for wider, more affordable spaces in the Sun Belt and Mountain West. The bigger states also continue to gain relatively more people from higher immigration and births.
Broken down by age and metro area, the Washington, D.C., area ranked at the top of destinations for young adults in the 2009-2011 period, rocketing up from 45th in 2006-2008. The area has been boosted by its promise of more plentiful government-related jobs, as well as a continuing influx of students.
Texas metro areas including Houston, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, which already were on the rise before the recession hit in late 2007, have remained a strong draw for young adults due in large part to their thriving energy and high-tech industries.