Monday, March 12, 2012

Ulysses Migration

Move to Arizona? Forget it. I'd rather stay in the Rust Belt:

For about $200, young Nevadans who face a statewide 13 percent jobless rate can hop a Greyhound bus to North Dakota, where they’ll find a welcome sign and a 3.3 percent rate. Why are young people not crossing borders? “This generation is going through an economic reset,” said John Della Volpe, who directs polling at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, which surveys thousands of young people each year. He reports that young people want to stay more connected with their hometowns: “I spoke with a kid from Columbus, Ohio, who dreamed of being a high school teacher. When he found out he’d have to move to Arizona or the Sunbelt, he took a job in a Columbus tire factory.

Emphasis added. There is a growing concern that Americans are less geographically mobile, unwilling to move in order to improve. The decline is measurable and extends back into the past, well beyond the usual hunkering down that goes on during any recession.

Assessing geographic mobility is harder than you might think. One can move without leaving the "area" (however you define it). Usually, relocating long distance is what we mean by geographic mobility. How many miles is that? We are also limited by the data collected. Richard Florida takes a stab at defining the "stuck" problem supposedly rooting Generation Y:

A smaller share of Americans moved last year that at any time on record, as I noted in a previous post. Nearly six in ten Americans live in the state where they were born, according to the U.S. Census bureau. But there is considerable variation from state to state, as [the map] (above) by Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute shows. More than three quarters of the people in Louisiana (78.9 percent), Michigan (76.6 percent) and Ohio (75.1 percent) were born there, as opposed to just 24.3 percent of Nevadans, 35.2 percent of Floridians, 37.2 percent of the residents of Washington, D.C., and 37.7 percent of Arizonans. A high level of home-grown residents is also indicative of a lack of inflow of new people.

Emphasis added. First, I'd note that the unit of geographic analysis is a state. That means moving from Yreka, CA to San Diego, CA (over 700 miles) qualifies as being stuck and not new to San Diego. Whereas switching houses in New Castle, PA for Youngstown, OH (about 20 miles) is a big move, even though you still commute to the same place of employment. Second, return migration isn't a consideration. Why? Because it is notoriously difficult to track.

One can leave Cleveland, OH for New York City. After 20-years in the Big Apple, you go for a job in Cincinnati, OH. You would show up as one of nearly six in ten Americans who live in the state where they were born. You are stuck. Cincinnati lacks an inflow of new people. I hypothesize that Richard Florida's "stuck belt" is flush with Rust Belt refugees returning home. The lack of geographic mobility is overstated.

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