Posted by: nickgerlich | November 30, 2007

Moving Target

A funny thing has happened in our culture over the last few decades. Whereas it was once quite the norm for coming-of-age children to stick around the community of their childhood, now there just isn’t that degree of stickiness. It’s almost like when you hit 18 (or 22-24 for college students), you fly the coop and head elsewhere.

My parents were a “mixed” marriage in that my father stayed close to home (Chicago), but my mother had escaped rural Appalachia in the 1950s to find a better way of life (and a husband perhaps?). She found both in Chicago, but had there been any future in poverty, she probably would have stayed in Kentucky.

By the time my brother and I came along, life in the suburbs was much different from the ethnic neighborhoods of the inner city. It was in the anonymity and fast pace of the suburbs that our worldview changed. There never was any expectation placed on us to stick around after college (which was assumed to be a given). In retrospect I think my parents had braced themselves many years in advance for the scattering of their progeny.

As it turned out, my parents moved to Florida after my paternal grandparents passed away, as did my brother. And we wound up in Texas.

Moving TruckToday, the pattern that was established a few decades ago has accelerated. Our mobility is astounding, and I am often hard-pressed to pin down a specific reason. Is it because moving is simpler? There are 4-lane highways leading everywhere? And it’s much easier today than being a pioneer headed west in a covered wagon? Whatever the reason, this Friedmanesque flat world in which we live now sees some 50 million people moving each year.

That’s over 16%. While the majority of moves are within-state, demographers are also noting an increase in between-state moves, with 2.7% now crossing state borders each year with their possessions in tow.

No wonder the moving industry (U-Haul, PODS, and professional movers) are doing so great, as well as all the self-storage facilities. We have become a nation of gypsies living out of boxes, ready to pull up stakes at a moment’s notice.

Furthermore, there continues to be an emphasis on the Sun Belt and the intermountain west. States with abundant sunshine, recreation opportunities, and mild weather are enticing to those who grew up with a snow shovel in hand.

With another semester coming to a close, I bet there is a sizeable number of my students getting ready to leave the Texas Panhandle, heading off to new frontiers, new jobs, new residences. The ink on this chapter will have hardly dried before they starting writing the next.

When we moved to the region, we were told that if we lingered long enough to wear out a pair of shoes, that we would spend the rest of our lives here. We have worn out many shoes in over 18 years, so maybe there is some truth to that statement. At least for us. But I suspect for a growing number of people, they may hardly even get the tag off those new shoes before they’re packing them up for the next big adventure.

Maybe we’ve gone back to thinking inside the box after all.

Dr “Not Going Anywhere” Gerlich


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