Are you Stuck? Should You Get Mobile?

The “Geography of Stuck” was published in The Atlantic yesterday by Senior Editor Richard Florida.  He notes the following statistics and commentary:

  • A smaller share of Americans moved last year than at any time on record
  • Nearly six in ten Americans live in the state where they were born
  • Louisiana (79%), Michigan (77%) and Ohio (75%) were born there, as opposed to just 24% of Nevadans, 35% of Floridians, 37% of the residents of Washington, D.C., and 38% of Arizonans.
  • There is a distinctive “stuck belt” across the middle of the country running from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa, down through West Virginia and into the Sunbelt states of Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.  Mobility is largely a bi-coastal—plus Rocky Mountain state—phenomenon.
  • America can be divided into two distinct classes, the stuck and the mobile. The mobile possess the resources and the inclination to seek out and move to locations where they pursue economic opportunity. Too many Americans are stuck in places with limited resources and opportunities. This geography of the stuck and mobile is a key axis of cleavage in the United States.

Whoa.  While I don’t dispute the facts, I would challenge the statement and the framing that “many Americans are stuck in places with limited resources and opportunities.”  Any takers today for a move to the Sunshine states?  (Nevada employment rate 13.9%, California 11.9%, Florida 10.6%, Arizona 9.1%).

I have been a card carrying member of the “mobile” class – uprooting my family for the next opportunity.  This mobility comes at a significant non-economic expense.   And these days, there are material economic consequences by moving. Here’s a high impact list that immediately comes to mind that would impact many Americans:

1) Family/Social: Certain families have been grounded in the same geography for generations.  Therein lies a built-in support network for daycare for dual earners, babysitters, Sunday family dinners to weekend family get-togethers.  Yank kids from middle school or high school? Leave aging parents?  Dump and run?  I don’t think so.  And, moving your family away from friends, from your church and from the community can be gut wrenching as well.

2) Economics:  An estimated 30% of all mortgage holders are underwater today.  Selling your home or walking away from your mortgage is no small undertaking.  Corporate relocation packages have shrunk or have been eliminated.  And add a much higher cost of living and the cost of real estate in major metro centers – and you’ve a steep hill to climb.

3) Skills: Let’s presume that you have marketable skills that are demand.  If not, this short list doesn’t begin to factor in the time and cost of job training programs or higher education.

Given the affordable cost of labor and real estate coupled with the acceleration of the benefits of technology, I have to believe that we will continue to see a migration of employment from high cost centers to the “stuck” geographies.

Meanwhile, take it from one that has been there – done that.  We agonized with each move.  It just “ain’t” that simple. We actually drafted an opportunity grid prior to each move (List of Priorities/Weighted Score for each Option).  As you can imagine, there was a high degree of difficulty in rating the subjective, non-economic factors. Each move has had its benefits and has exacted a toll.  Good luck to those in the hunt…I’m glad I’m not there with you, for now.

And as to my friends in Michigan (BV, TH), Ohio (KH) and Wisconsin (KH), no worries – the world is coming to you…

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