Book of the week: Next Stop, Reloville: Life Inside America’s New Rootless Professional Class by Peter T. Kilborn

In today's global economy many professionals relocate every two or three years. New York Times journalist Peter Kilborn thoughtfully examines how this serial relocation affects families and communities.

(Times Books, 272 pages, $26)

Some middle-class American families will never have a place they can truly call home, says journalist Peter Kilborn. Because another promotion always beckons—and because many fear the consequences of refusing one—they move every few years, from state to state, and from one new suburban development to another. Their homes grow in size, but they form only tentative friendships. These serial relocators, or “relos,” says Kilborn, “don’t know where their funerals will be or who might come.” Kilborn estimates there are now roughly 10 million of these economic nomads—mostly white and well educated—and they are “disproportionately influential” in shaping the lives of not just the communities they touch but the entire American middle class.

Kilborn’s “thoughtful examination” of this trend isn’t meant “as a warning,” said Doron Taussig in The Washington Monthly. The veteran New York Times reporter accepts the growth of relo culture as an inevitable effect of a globalized economy. As he introduces readers to various relo families, he even acknowledges that the breadwinners sometimes attain real career satisfaction. But the broader picture he paints is depressing: Lonely spouses; teenagers who feel like “ghosts” in their new schools; grandparents who gamely tag along for one or two moves, only to be left behind in an unfamiliar setting when they’re too enfeebled to move again. “Remember that queasy feeling you got as a kid,” ­riding in the back of a stuffy car on a long ride? said Susan Ager in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. That’s the feeling you get while reading Reloville.

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Kilborn may be exaggerating the extent of the relo trend, said Joel Kotkin in The Wall Street Journal. Even in the pre-crash year of 2004, only 14 percent of Americans moved house, marking a 50-year low. These days, fewer companies are committed enough to their midlevel executives to bother paying for their moves, and prized employees can use new technologies­ to telecommute from wherever they prefer to live. Next Stop, Reloville “documents an important piece of social history,” and does so in an “agreeably sensible” tone. But the pheno­menon it describes may already be fading into history.

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