Why is labor mobility slowing in America?

There is a new and quite interesting paper on this topic, by Kyle Mangum and Patrick Coate:

This paper offers an explanation for declining internal migration in the United States motivated by a new empirical fact: the mobility decline is driven by locations with typically high rates of population turnover. These “fast” locations were the Sunbelt centers of population growth during the twentieth century. The paper presents evidence that as spatial population growth converged, residents of fast locations were subject to rising levels of preference for home. Using a novel measure of home attachment, the paper develops and estimates a structural model of migration that distinguishes moving frictions from home utility. Simulations quantify the role of multiple explanations of the mobility decline. Rising home attachment accounts for nearly half of the decline, roughly as large as the effect of an aging population, and is consistent with the spatial pattern. The implication is recent declining migration is a long run result of population shifts of the twentieth century.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Tyler Ransom.


Good God, there's someone else called Tyler? Did you ever!

Manifest Destiny is no more. The destinations are optimally congested, reached their Avogadro's number.

Several societal trends driving mobility have played out. The decay of the Rust Belt is complete. Family farms have been bought up and emptied out. Jim Crow has been dismantled. California is no longer any sort of promised land.

Basically, we believe the Mexicans will come to us, so we don't have to move.

Conservatives got public policy changed to trap most people where they are born.

First, the tax cuts to kill off the IBM class, IBM meaning I've Been Moved.

Eliminate tax dodges and cut rates made businesses moving workers to the locations where the jobs are or are being created based on central planners seeking new ways to grow the economy.

In the 70s, I was moved by my employer 5 times. I was a little unusual, but my employer moved so many people HR had specialists coordinating moving companies and real estate specialists handling home sales.

The second major change was government moving young men pretty much stopped. The draft was fairly egalitarian in that it moved young men out of all communities, often exposing many to other parts of the US if not the world. Not to mention forced them to interact with people outside their birth community.

Many people decided they wanted to live some place else. And they did.

Today, college is the primary force moving people, primarily upper class elites as cost cutting forces the masses to live at home an go to community college while working.

"government moving young men pretty much stopped."
Excellent observation.

"In the 70s, I was moved by my employer 5 times."

How is this desirable, especially if you have a family? What about roots, community, social capital?

What trapped people where they were born was immigration with attendant reduction in wages and growth in real estate which reduced the economic incentive to move. Even if you still get a relative gain, it might not be enough to offset sacrifices in term of comfort, community, social status, and other costs that come with moving from one place to another.

"The draft was fairly egalitarian in that it moved young men out of all communities, "

Yes, ending the Draft was clearly a dreadful idea.

The concept of public service is obviously dreadful, placing society above individual greed and power.

Of course, government still supports moving people, but only the elites, spending money for college, but nothing for the working class who no longer get trained and certified in the jobs that feed and equip both an army, but also society.

I worked with many in the computer industry in the 70s into the early 80s who were trained in the military in jobs that were technician or above in industry. Ross Perot built his fortune building companies of veterans from mostly the pre end of draft era.

FDR'S most popular program was the CCC which was run like military units, getting kids squared away the first time they are away from home, getting them feed and equipped, and organized to do a job as a unit, self sufficient as a unit.

College campus life can do the same, with some colleges providing more oversight of freshmen, but it's much easier for kids in college to go off track. This is more often the case in community college.

But hey, conservatives want the the elites separated from the masses to better to divide society into winners and losers, that conservatives think they can pick. Oddly the winners are those they want to be losers, while the losers are the majority of the conservative base, with conservative elites getting rich, but not as rich as the liberal elites they hate.

As for ending the draft ending military adventurism, the US military has shifted from basing soldiers in civilized mostly Western nations to basing them in large numbers for much longer times in uncivilized regions where they view most of the population as enemy, not allies, eg, tribes vs Germans, Brits.

My life was influenced by the draft, so I measure it in cold cost benefit terms. I would never serve as a CO in the military, but was driven to "volunteer" to get alternative service out of the way, but I failed to pass the physical and exempted pending a review a year later. It disrupted my life just like it did for my male early boomer peers. My cost was low, as was the cost to many others older than I who were peers in work. Obviously some paid a high price, and it took more than a decade before even WWII vets recognized Vietnam vets as having paid a high cost.

But the benefits of ending the draft are non-existent. While the military provides a ways out for many, the benefits are much lower because the jobs that are useful after service are outsourced. And outside the US, outsourced to foreign workers because paying US citizens to work costs too much and harms US citizens who must pay taxes, in some future decade or century. US workers, especially depressed wage soldiers, gain no benefit paid to cook food or handle logistics, in the view of conservatives.

Ending the draft led to now the 40 year US adventure in Afghanistan's forever war. Few people see any cost to themselves in the military ventures of the past four decades, and the GOP has erased all costs in taxes for wars, and ending the draft promotes the Trump view that those who suffer injury in war are losers, and losers are to be hated. Those who volunteer and suffer injury are losers who chose to be losers.

And those who survive, well, they didn't win, no victory, so we are now down to giving medals to dogs, because volunteers have failed us by not giving us victories, parades, heroes.

Since ending the draft, military service is about individual gain, not the common good. A politician citing their military service means they signed up for a non-risky job to further their political career. Military service connects a politician to very few voters today because so few voters served, or if they did, they served for the common good, not personal gain.

Ending the draft was part of dividing the US by class and regionally, likely an unintended consequence, but given opposition to universal service, perhaps intentionally.

uh ... dude ... it was the Liberal Left who ended the draft. They didn't want their asses greased in Vietnam.

So now elitists like yourselves and your snowflake progeny can attend protests and defecate on the sidewalks in San Francisco while the lower classes get shipped over to Iraq.

Bernie Bro's like you don't want Billionaires to run for POTUS. Only 1%er MILLIONAIRES like Sanders or Warren should do that.

mobility declines in two earner households, when only one partner loses employment

+1, two significant earning households is going to result in less movement. In the days of women being locked out of the professional job market, the family moved to where the husband needed to go to find work. The wife either didn't work, or could easily find a replacement for a low paying job in the new area.

The jobs aren't worth moving for.

Daycare for children is very expensive and nearby family like grandparents who can watch after children saves a lot of money. Family is also more trustworthy than random daycare workers. In an era of t increasing two working parent households, it makes more sense to be nearby extended family. In addition, working couples can find it difficult to relocate because while relocation for one person may be a good career move, it can be disruptive to the other person's career.

The movement of people to the Sunbelt was primarily because air conditioning made summers there tolerable so people moved because of climate. The migration to the Sunbelt was not the result but rather the cause of Rust Belt economic decline. This can be seen in the timing, most Rust Belt cities peaked in population in the 1950 census and were thus declining in population for decades before deindustrialization set in. Now that the people who prefer Sunbelt climates live there already, there is less incentive to move. The sort of mild economic differences between US regions that exist today are not enough to create large-scale migration.

No large scale migration? What about Las Vegas, Austin, Seattle, Dallas, Houston, Orlando, Raleigh and Charlotte?

"...most Rust Belt cities peaked in population in the 1950 census and were thus declining in population for decades before deindustrialization set in. "

Nope. I'm not sure why it so hard for people to grasp the difference between cities and metro areas. Yes, most rust belt central cities reached peak population about 1950, but the metro areas did not. They continued to grow. The cities started emptying not because everybody moved to the south, but because everybody moved to the suburbs. The suburbs added all the migrants from the central cities and many more new residents besides. For example, the city of Chicago peaked in population in 1950 at 3.6M, but the metro area at that time was 5.5M. Today it's 9.5M. Even Detroit -- the supposed poster child for decline -- follows a similar pattern, the city of Detroit peaked in 1950 and declined in population by 2/3rds thereafter. BUT, the overall metro area did not shrink. It was 3.2M in 1950 vs 4.3M today. This means that the Detroit suburbs and exurbs went from ~1.4M in 1950 to ~3.7M today.

That's true. Metro Detroit actually peaked in 1970, which makes sense since the domestic auto industry never recovered from the early '80s recession.

Metro Detroit actually peaked in 1970

The Detroit CSA went from 4.49M in 1970 to 4.33M in 2018. A loss of 160K over about 50 years, so an overall decline of 0.07% per year -- so we're talking about stagnation rather than significant decline. And people are confused about the auto industry as well. None of the foreign automakers have put plants near Detroit (because UAW) and the domestic automakers have been moving production to Mexico (because UAW), but foreign automakers and suppliers have no problem hiring Detroit area auto engineers. Just east of Ann Arbor, for example, you'll find both Toyota's and Hyundai-Kia's north american tech centers. The area is also home to companies doing factory automation, robotics, machine vision, simulation, emissions-testing, crash-testing, autonomous vehicle research and all that kind of thing. That part of the auto-industry isn't limited to the 'Detroit 3' automakers, hasn't moved out of SE Michigan, and has no reason to move. There may come a time when there isn't any auto-manufacturing at all around Detroit with 'only' auto R&D remaining (sort of like Silicon Valley doesn't do any smartphone manufacturing but 'only' the R&D).

I know all this. I was agreeing with you.

Oh, OK, sorry I misinterpreted your reply. Most people really don't seem to know all this.

The big companies where I live often just fly employees where they need them rather than make them move. I'm not sure if that's a reason people don't move or a response to the fact that people won't move.

Or just have them work remotely.

Is this more Heimat? :-)

Americans move less for jobs in America in part because foreigners move more. Why move from the Rust Belt to California for a job when California is extremely attractive to foreigners, so your standard of living is likely to fall?

Foreigners have been moving in droves to California since 1849. Excuses these days are weak.

Why move from the Midwest to California when -- unless you're at the highest levels in the tech or entertainment industries -- you'll likely end up with a lower standard of living? The high cost of living makes the adjusted poverty rate in California highest in the nation -- much higher than in any rust-belt state.

No they're not.

For instance, H-1b labor in Silicon Valley makes the typical computer job no more attractive there than a typical American city.

Let's stop calling people "labor".

"Rising home attachment accounts for nearly half of the decline..." So people move less often because they like their homes more? Thank you captain obvious.

"So people move less often because they like their homes more?"

That and they dislike the price of a replacement home in areas with better pay rates. A 20% raise of income won't necessarily cover a 2x+ rise in housing costs.

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