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Latest Job Search Stats Show Increased Relocation

Relocation rate at three-year high, as job seekers take more risks

CHICAGO, July 27, 2009 - As employers continue to shed workers and with few signs of a hiring resurgence on the horizon, new job-search statistics released Monday reveal an increased willingness among out-of-work Americans to pull up stakes and relocate to wherever positions are available. If the still-nascent upward trend continues, it could help reignite home sales in some areas of the country, particularly those with more job opportunities.

According to the new data, 18.2 percent of job seekers finding employment in the second quarter relocated for the position. That is up from 14.3 percent in the previous quarter and 11.4 percent in the second quarter of 2008. It is, in fact, the highest job-seeker relocation rate since the second quarter 2006, when it also reached 18.2 percent.

The latest job search statistics were released by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. and are based on data collected from among approximately 3,000 job seekers at all levels in a wide variety of industries nationwide.

"Job seekers had been extremely reluctant to relocate up until this most recent quarter. The reluctance was almost certainly related to the inability to sell one's current home without incurring significant losses. There was also the fear that, with the job market so unstable, it was too risky to relocate for a job that might not last," said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

"While job seekers are no less likely to lose money on the sale of their home and the job market is only marginally more stable than it was six months ago, the overwhelming desire to get back to work appears to be outweighing the perceived risks," he said.

Between the fourth quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of 2009, the relocation rate averaged just 11.9 percent. The relocation rate hit a record low of 8.9 percent in the first quarter of 2008, according to Challenger tracking that began in 1986.

While the 18.2 percent relocation rate in the second quarter represents a significant increase from previous quarters, it pales in comparison to the level of relocation exhibited in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In 1986, for example, the quarterly relocation rate averaged 42 percent. In 1993, relocation averaged 35 percent over the year, but reached a record high of 49.2 percent in the second quarter. After 1993, however, job seekers appear to be more averse to relocation, with the quarterly average sinking to 22 percent from 1994 through 2000.

"Around 2001, the annual average for relocation fell below 20 percent for the first time, despite the fact that expanding one's job search greatly increases the odds of finding a position. What made the decline in relocation even more surprising is that it came at a time when the Internet made it easier than ever to search for out-of-town jobs," said Challenger.

"Several factors probably contributed to the decline in relocation. The country experienced a period of phenomenal growth, with many cities and states diversifying their economies. This made it less necessary to relocate to find work in specialized occupational categories. In other words, you no longer had to relocate to Silicon Valley if you wanted to find a technology job," said Challenger.

"Another factor that has contributed to the fall in relocation is the fact that the same Internet technology that makes out-of-town job seeking so easy also makes it easier for people to work from anywhere. Faster and cheaper Internet connections, coupled with relatively low air-travels costs, made it possible for job seekers to gain out-of-town employment without actually moving out of town," he added.

Relocation rates most certainly will not return to the levels reached in the late 80s and early 90s, but there could be a significant increase in relocation in the quarters ahead.

"Current homeowners may sit tight, still unwilling to take a loss as home values continue to fall. However, renters or those who have lost their homes to foreclosure are more likely to have a nothing-to-lose attitude," said Challenger.

"Additionally, while no area of the country remains unscathed by the recession, some regions and cities are faring much better than others. So, those who are willing to take the risk of moving to a new city are significantly improving their chances of job-search success by looking afar," said Challenger.

In May, that latest month for which local area unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics was available, there were about 200 metropolitan areas with unemployment rates below the national average, which stood at 9.1 percent at that time. Remarkably, about 20 metro areas had unemployment rates below 5.0 percent, including Bismarck, North Dakota, which had the lowest jobless rate in the country, at 3.5 percent.

Some of the other cities enjoying low unemployment rates are Iowa City, 3.7 percent; Ames, Iowa, 3.8 percent; Lincoln, Nebraska, 4.2 percent; and Manhattan, Kansas, 4.4 percent.

"One thing many of the low unemployment cities have in common is that they are home to one or more large colleges or universities. Universities are a major generator of jobs. Not only do the campuses require a lot of staff to teach, manage and maintain facilities, but the student body represents a steady source of revenue for local businesses. Many corporations purposely locate headquarters or regional offices near college campuses in order to take advantage of an ongoing source of fresh talent and to benefit from academic research," said Challenger.

"Many of the other cities at the top of the list did not see the massive inflation in housing prices that eventually imploded and sent the economy into its tailspin. As a result, their economies remained relatively stable in comparison to many cities in California and on the eastern seaboard, for example," he said.

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