“Americans are less geographically mobile today than at any point since 1948.” –Arthur C. Brooks, for the New York Times
That may be one reason why our country is having such a difficult time getting out of its national economic funk. “Mobility is more than a metaphor for getting ahead. In America, it has been a solution to economic and social barriers,” according to Brooks, above.
In the mid-1960s, about 20 percent of the population moved in any given year, says the U.S. Census Bureau. By 1990, it was approaching 15 percent. Today it’s closer to 10 percent. The percentage that moves between states has fallen by nearly half since the early 1990s.
Interestingly, some of our countrymen who would have the most to gain from moving seem to be among the most staying. States with high unemployment, like Mississippi (6.3 percent) are not losing residents to low unemployment states like New Hampshire (2.6 percent). Mississippians are less likely to migrate today than they were before the Great Recession, according to the Census Bureau.
Why? The mobility decline since the Great Recession has actually been the most pronounced among millennials. “As the first rungs of the economic ladder became more slippery, young adults began to delay major steps into adulthood and became less likely to relocate for college and careers,” Brooks observes. At the same time, older adults faced a housing crisis that left them in devalued homes and a safety net that tied them to their states. Add to that a decline in blue-collar skills that require moving.
How do we create more employment mobility?
- Reshape education to prepare people to move where good jobs are found. Emphasize applied tech training for jobs the world over. We need to train people for important, interesting, dignified work that is difficult to outsource.
- We need to reform place-based welfare programs to reduce the incentive to stay put. “The social safety net should be designed to promote mobility and earned success, not to anchor people within struggling communities or make full-time work harder to find,” urges Brooks.
- We need a change in attitude. Instead of trying to insulate Americans from economic trends we should be extolling the American spirit of courage, adventure, optimism and willingness to break from the moribund past.
At Horizonte, Salt Lake City School District’s alternative high school and adult education center, formerly unsuccessful high school students, immigrants and refugees, come from far and near to earn a high school diploma. They know that doing so punches their ticket for entry into the world of upward mobility. Privately funded applied tech and college scholarships are assisting Horizonte graduates in public institutions of higher learning in several states beyond Utah.