Alex Tabarrok discusses some academic work that shows a declining inter-regional mobility in the United States which is causing local economic declines to last much longer than they used to last.
In a new paper, also cited by Leubsdorf, Danny Yagan at Berkeley suggests that reduced migration is only part of the problem. What has made the aftermath to the 2008-2009 recession so bad is that migration is low at the same time that it has become more necessary than ever. The 2008-2009 recession was especially localized, it hit some places harder than others and in a way that appears to be permanent. But migration has been too slow to solve the problem.
The usual story is that in-and-out migration equalizes wage, unemployment and employment rates across the nation. Some places may be harder hit than others but movement quickly makes the US into one labor market. In the aftermath of this recession, however, that isn’t happening for employment rates. Using a clever research design that looks at workers with similar education and skills doing the same jobs at the same large firms but in different locations, Yagan finds that location continues to matter years after the recession has ended. Workers who worked in the places hardest hit in the 2007-2009 recession have employment rates today that are 1% lower than similar workers in regions that were less hard hit.
It is probably unfair for me to comment on this because I have been highly mobile in my life, having lived and worked in about 10 places as diverse as Houston, Dallas, Boston, Boulder, Seattle, Phoenix, St. Louis. However, I will take a shot at this. Some of my hypotheses:
- Government programs to encourage home ownership have reduced mobility. It is simply harder to move if one has a house to sell, and this was worse in the last recession, which was driven in large part by falling home prices, which made it even harder to move when one has an underwater home to sell.
- Political/Cultural redlining reduces mobility. As an example, certain millennials want to be nowhere else but San Francisco, despite how absurdly hard it is to live there. They will starve in poverty there before going to, say, Houston, which is an easy place to live when one is young but which many consider to be a evil redneck backwater.
- Use of Communication technology causes people to think they can reduce mobility when they perhaps can't. I think a lot of folks with modern communication technology assume that location is irrelevant and that they should be able to do X work anywhere they want. I think they are overestimating where many industries and companies are right now (though they may be correct in the future). Just from tax compliance and regulatory perspectives, it is pure hell for a company in, say, Texas to have an employee in, say, California. Plus I think there are still real networking and management reasons for employees to be concentrated in facilities.