NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 28, 2006

Social critics and policy makers often propose expensive measures to curb a problem that does not exist: increasing human mobility. According to Allison Stein Wellner, former editor of American Demographics, such critics claim excessively mobile Americans destroy the environment, undermine the family and increase anomie. However, Americans are moving less each year -- some 14 percent of U.S. residents moved in 2004, making this the Census Bureau's lowest mobility rate ever recorded.

Such false allegations of "an increasingly mobile society," argues Wellner, cost taxpayers unnecessarily:

  • Lobbyists, such as the Massachusetts Citizens for Children, use the "increasing geographic mobility" argument as justification for increased tax funding for family support services.
  • Other advocates insist upon increased funding for expensive elderly care programs, such as nursing homes. Such advocates claim program expansions are necessary supplements, because increasingly mobile Americans either willingly, or unwillingly, neglect the needs of their elderly family members.

So why do social critics and policy makers claim society is increasingly mobile, asks Wellner?

  • Scholars and journalists perpetuate the myth.
  • People mistake an increasingly mobile society with other mobility traits, such as the increased travel among businessmen and tourists, and cities' rapid population growth of non-natives.
  • Conservatives use the myth to advocate programs that encourage traditional families, and to push for taxpayer funding of faith-based social service organizations.
  • Liberals use the myth for various social programs, including elderly care and family care initiatives.

Source: Alison Stein Wellner, "The Mobility Myth," Reason, April 2006.

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