In today’s highly polarized, sometimes poisonous, social, economic, and political atmosphere in the US, there is a clear tendency to see anything and everything new as either a huge step forward or a looming disaster, more often than not the latter. It is no different with trends in American relocation outside the US.
One of the first things I noticed back in 2007 when I first wrote about our findings in an op-ed at Boston’s Christian Science Monitor and at Barron’s, Dow Jones’ weekly financial publication, followed by the CNBC interview with Erin Burnett, were the most common reactions. How could this be true? Why haven’t we heard about it before? Why would they want to live anywhere else? There was an almost automatic negative reaction to the idea that so many American households were considering or planning global relocation. That is what struck me most, this negative reaction. Somehow, it seems Americans are so negative in general that any new and surprising data is seen negatively as well. They were not analytical responses, they were emotional. And this was back in the summer of 2007 when today’s global financial crisis was still in the future. Whatever their reasons may have been, one thing was clear. No one saw this in a positive light. They all took it as bad news.
Well, is it? After all, we have found a rather dramatic rise in 2011, far above any prior results of the eight surveys we ran from 2005 through 2009. Indeed, the overall number planning to relocate was three times greater in 2011 than it was in 2009. Now, that is dramatic.
Like so many general trends, you can always find both good news and bad news. I can see both in the results.
The bad news is that the most dramatic growth in relocation planning and interest is found among young adults. No doubt about it in my mind, the lousy economy and lack of good jobs are the primary underlying factors in this growth. As I have said elsewhere, these statistics should be accepted as one more “wake-up call” to the American elite that it had better take care of business at home if it want its young, its future, to remain at home. I have absolutely no patience with people who seem to think that these young adults are somehow unpatriotic or selfish or anything along those lines. They each want a life and I sympathize completely. If they can’t find it at home, they will move, as humans have been doing for centuries. They do not mean to be a message, but they are a message. The question is whether anyone is listening.
And yet it is much more than that. As our 2007 and earlier surveys had shown, the 25-34 age group has always been a leader in relocation, with the 18-24 group very much partners. This is also no surprise. These are the adults most familiar with the Internet and far more likely to have traveled outside the US than their parents. The world that seemed still quite distant to those same parents is no longer distant, at least not in the minds of young adults. And rightly so. The same is happening globally. If you read the news on “emigration”, what I call relocation, you will find it underway in many nations today.
As I often point out to friends, it is not just a question of a communications revolution, but a transportation revolution. No, we are not traveling that much faster than we did two, three, or four decades ago, if at all, but we are traveling to more places. I’m 66 and have worked globally almost all my adult life. For much of that period, roughly a third of the planet was off-limits to me as an American. Today, I can get in a plane and fly to Prague or Beijing without concern. For most of my adult life, that was much, more more easily said than done, if it could be done at all. My citizenship alone made me persona non grata in those nations and many others. Not so today and it is the same for all Americans, as it is for western Europeans, the citizens of the former communist world, and many others.
This is the good news. In a rapidly shrinking world, Americans need to know it and know it well. If we are going to compete peacefully and successfully in this world and the world of the future, this is a critical component.
Relocators are not migrants in the traditional sense. They are not seeking to become citizens of another nation, but only to reside there for an indeterminate time. I once wrote that these relocators are the real “Voice of America”, no insult to the radio network intended! But they are indeed voices of America and they are heard globally. Thankfully, the great majority I have met are great representatives of a great nation. They do us proud.
And they, of all ages, will be the focus of my next commentary.