More Americans are staying put. But how can we live with intention?

Our church’s lament service took place in March; we had moved to Cincinnati the previous summer. I didn’t attend the service with my own sadness in mind—but it found me, in the dark and somber silence consecrated for those who showed up. The grief of our recent uprooting caught up with me in the pew that late winter night. Leaving home, even voluntarily, incurs a litany of losses.

I might have believed the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to an increase in geographical mobility, as companies—like my husband’s—sold their headquarters and opted for a fully remote workforce. Such flexibility allowed us to relocate to care for an aging parent, and the majority of Americans still report the desire to work from home full-time (while only 13 percent do).

Recent data, however, reveals that for four decades, geographical mobility has been on the decline in the United States. Although pandemic disruptions led to an initial increase in dislocation (often from urban areas to suburban or rural ones), these numbers have stabilized. More Americans are staying put.

Perhaps our national appetite for transience is waning. Still, I confess to feeling pessimistic about our collective commitment to geographical rootedness and responsibility. In our new telework, telehealth, telechurch environments, it seems nearly as easy to opt out of belonging to a place as it is to opt in. With socially mediated lives, there aren’t immediate and acute absences to fill if you change your address. With remote work arrangements, there are fewer opportunities to make new friends. In fact, what’s curious to me, in comparing our move in 2022 with that in 2011, is how little stands to change despite a change in geographical …

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