Yesterday we came across an alarming factoid: Only 30 percent of our fellow Americans hold a passport. That strikes us as absurdly low, especially now that all travel to Mexico and Canada will require the precious document. And while one could argue that the expense of international travel is a factor in our exceptionally low passport rate, we suspect that a combination of laziness and lack of curiosity are the real culprits. We are, alas, not a nation of travelers—the anti-Australia, basically. And Microkhan can’t help but think this fact bodes ill. (For comparison’s sake, 54 percent of Canadians hold passports, and the rates in most EU countries are well north of 70 percent—though, granted, the continent’s relatively small size has to be taken into account in the latter case.)
Thinking about our passport malaise got us thinking about a related issue: Domestic mobility. If we’re shy about going abroad, we wondered, are we also reticent when it comes to moving too far away from our usual surroundings? To our great surprise, the Census survey on historical geographical mobility revealed that we’re becoming increasingly anchored to our current coordinates. In 1947-48, the first period in which mobility was measured, 6.4 percent of Americans moved to a different county, and 3.1 percent moved to a different state. Sixty years later, the respective figures were 3.7 percent and 1.6 percent.
What gives? Home ownership rates are doubtless the prime factor. And therein lies a downside of the whole “ownership society” program. There’s something to be said for having the ability to pull up stakes for better opportunities elsewhere. In fact, as a native of the Golden West, our home state (California) could not have existed without such mobility.
But is there something else at work here, too? Has the homogenization of the American landscape disincented folks from moving (since they figure one place is surely much like another)? And why haven’t The Tubes enabled people to work from where they want, at least in more significant numbers?
Of course, we’re one to talk. Our job is about as mobile as they come, yet we’ve been headquartered on the same miniscule, overcrowded, garbage-strewn island for a decade now. And the farthest we’ve roamed so far in 2009 was up to Lake Placid for a day. So, yes, Microkhan is apparently part of the problem.