Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Captive Labor Markets

Geographic immobility is costly. There are a variety of ways to demonstrate proof of concept. One is the wage discrepancy between women and men. I remember the maps presented in an undergraduate geography course titled "Gender, Place and Culture" that detailed the journey to work in the city of Worcester, MA . Typically, women were unable to travel as far as men for employment. The result was lower wages for the same job. Apparently, employers exploit the geographically immobile in other ways:

The researchers said one of the most surprising findings was how successful low-wage employers were in pressuring workers not to file for workers’ compensation. Only 8 percent of those who suffered serious injuries on the job filed for compensation to pay for medical care and missed days at work stemming from those injuries.

“The conventional wisdom has been that to the extent there were violations, it was confined to a few rogue employers or to especially disadvantaged workers, like undocumented immigrants,” said Nik Theodore, an author of the study and a professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois, Chicago. “What our study shows is that this is a widespread phenomenon across the low-wage labor market in the United States.”

I would argue that geographically immobile workers are "disadvantaged workers". Thus, policy designed to incentivize sticking close to home isn't in the interest of local graduates. Brain drain initiatives are cultural relics that make little economic sense.

International development programs are already to wise to the destructive behavior. Both the United Nations and the World Bank are attempting to change the thinking of policymakers who insist on trying to restrict the flows of talent. Yet, Rust Belt cities such as Pittsburgh continue to repeat the mistakes of the past. The time has come for a new workforce development paradigm that is more in line with today's global economic structure.

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