This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, December 28, 2015

How Do We Get People in the US to Move to Where the Jobs Are?

The history of human migration is that people move to find work. If there aren't enough jobs where they are right now, or the jobs don't pay enough to live on, you go somewhere else. That is essentially the reason why there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US--they came to find work (well, OK, most came to find work, while others accompanied those finding work). The other major reason for migration is that life is too dangerous where you are, so you go somewhere else less dangerous. That accounts for much of the migration from Central America to the US, and it accounts for much of the migration out of the Middle East into Europe. In the latter case, the violence led to a loss of jobs, and the combination led to migration. 

These examples are from international migration, but they should apply equally to migration within a country. So, the question would then be: Why is anyone still living in south Chicago, where crime and violence is high and jobs are hard to come by? Henry Olsen, writing for the has an answer and a solution. This is a long and complex article and I cannot do it justice in a short blog post, but let me give you the barebones argument. Setting aside Chicago for the sake of the argument, it is of course the case that a lot of people in the US do move to where better jobs are. The better educated you are, the more likely this has happened to you. But, especially among people with only a high school education or less, the local safety net of welfare services discourages people from moving. Olsen argues, though, that the answer is not to get rid of safety nets. We just need to nationalize them, if you will. Currently, unemployment benefits, health insurance, and other kinds of benefits available to people who are either unemployed or underemployed are provided at the state or even local level and are not readily transferable from place to place. So, it is scary to pack up and move somewhere else unless you have some kind of iron-clad good job in the new location, which most people do not. Indeed, most people who really could use a job elsewhere have no way of knowing about jobs in other places, nor the resources to go there and interview for a job, nor the resources to move even if they were offered the job.

As a reminder, then, here's how Olsen sets up the problem:
The Homestead Act of 1862 is one of America’s best-known and beloved laws. By giving away federal land for free to anyone who settled and cultivated it, the act enshrined the governing principle of the newly ascendant Republican Party: government should act to help the average man help himself build a better life. Together with the Land Grant College Act and the Pacific Railroad Acts, the Homestead Act placed the federal government squarely on the side of the average American in his or her quest to live in comfort and with dignity. 
Today we have no frontier, no untapped source of federal lands. We do, however, have the same issue the Homestead Act tried to solve. Millions of low-to-moderately skilled, native-born and immigrant Americans live in places where they can’t find decent work while a vast new economic frontier unfolds in Southern and Western states such as Texas, Florida and North Carolina. These wide open spaces are enticing enough to encourage millions of Latin Americans to undertake dangerous and expensive journeys, yet millions of other Americans remain mired in ghettoes, depressed steel towns and struggling regions like Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta.
The solution of the "new" Homestead Act is aimed at giving people resources to find jobs elsewhere. The idea is as simple as that. Of course, changing the laws that would create such a structure won't be easy, but the idea is so crazy, it just might work.

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