housing lock
n. The inability to move to look for better job opportunities because one’s house is worth less than the mortgage. Also: housing lock-in.

Example Citations:
Since the housing and financial crisis and subsequent recession, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that state-to-state movement in the U.S. (on a % basis) has been about as low as it ever has been. One reason for that, many economists believe, is the fact that there were fewer places to move to that had stronger economic growth that often drives migration. But another important factor has been the phenomenon of “housing lock.”
—Brian Gottlob, “The Demographic Trend NH Should Most Worry About,” Trend Lines, April 25, 2014

Some claim that today’s persistent high unemployment is due in significant part to geographic immobility—in particular that because the bursting of the housing bubble has left many homeowners underwater on their mortgages, workers are more tied to their homes than in prior downturns, and in the event of job loss are less able to move to places where there are jobs. Could “housing lock” account for a significant portion of the high unemployment in the aftermath of the Great Recession?
—Heidi Shierholz, “Housing Market Not to Blame for Keeping Unemployed Out of Work,” US News & World Report, March 7, 2012

Earliest Citation:
On the other hand, home owners with large mortgages can be subject to negative equity problems resulting in significant housing lock-in effects.
—Paul Flatau et al., “Home Ownership and Unemployment in Australia” (PDF), Journal of Economic Literature Classifications, December 1, 2002

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