Friday, April 15, 2016

Sinking Us

     I dithered over that title. I’m still uncertain whether it should be “Countersinking Us.” But all will become clear in due course.

     You, an erudite and observant Gentle Reader of Liberty’s Torch, couldn’t possibly need a job, right? I mean, look at you: holder of a thousand valuable skills, rich in both knowledge and wisdom, the very epitome of the work ethic, simply brimming with foresight and good judgment. And that’s to say nothing about your manly / womanly / whateverly good looks. You could no more be long-term unemployed than Socrates could be out of epigrams.

     Still, imagine it, for the sake of a column.

     Okay, so you’re out of work. Can you weather it? Do you have savings enough to cover your obligations while you stalk the concrete canyons in search of an employer with the percipience and good sense to appreciate what a bargain you are? For a time, at least? Then you’ll probably “look local:” that is, you’ll concentrate your job search in the vicinity of your home, out to a reasonable commuting distance (which, of course, varies with the locale and your propensity for road rage.)

     But let’s imagine, incredible as it may be, that the months slip by, your bank balance dwindles, and nothing turns up. At some point you would find yourself looking at the tail end of your reserves and asking yourself, “How much longer can I remain here?”

     Right? I mean, there must be work for you somewhere. Your immediate environs out to a fifty-mile radius might be devoid of good taste, but surely that can’t be the case for the whole country! Somewhere in this hallowed land there must be a billet for you.

     Of course, it’s possible that there isn’t – that there are no longer any buggy whip manufacturers who’d profit from your skill at demonstrating the techniques of equine celeritation. Or perhaps the market for specialists in diseases of the middle toe simply won’t accommodate another practitioner. But let’s eschew such dismal ponderings and ask rather: what are the pros and cons of relocation?

     In these waning days of the Republic That Was, it’s become a rather formidable undertaking:

     Are you married? If so, you won’t be relocating just yourself. Your spouse would naturally go with you...I hope. But what if she has a job she doesn’t want to leave? And what about the kids? Wrench them out of the schools they’ve come to love learned to endure, and away from all the friends they’ve made?

     Do you own your place of residence? Can you sell it? Is there a market for homes such as yours at the moment? How much fixing-up of little nuisances you and yours have learned to endure will it take to make it marketable? How long is it likely to linger before someone snaps it up? And how much of it is yours? If you’re carrying a mortgage, there’s the little question of whether you can sell at a high enough price to cover your indebtedness – and that leaves aside whether you can extract enough equity from the sale to pay for your next home.

     Those are just the major financial considerations. There are minor financial considerations and wholly non-financial aspects to relocating as well. Having to find that new residence, with all the costs, uncertainties, and potentials for irritation and inconvenience that go along with settling in a new home. Leaving family and friends behind. Losing access to the artisans and service people you’ve grown to trust. Having to settle in a district that’s probably unknown to you, and filled with persons who might regard you with indifference or suspicion. Learning to cheer for a completely different set of “home teams.”

     This relocating business isn’t what it used to be. Maybe you should just keep searching in your current area, and do your best to get by on unemployment insurance. After all, they’ll keep extending it, won’t they?

     Relocation didn’t always pose such daunting obstacles. When a family had a single breadwinner, when homes were less expensive (and less equipped with conveniences we’ve come to depend on), when schools were generally trustworthy and people were generally more trusting of newcomers, people were readier to move when the occasion demanded it. Those days, however, are behind us.

     The statistics bear this out:

     Labor market mobility in the United States has declined. Interstate migration is down (graph at right from Molloy, Smith, Trezzi and Wozniak) and so is in-state-migration, especially for the less well educated. Where once people responded to shocks by moving to opportunity now they are likely to stay put and retire early or take-up disability insurance. Ben Leubsdorf at the WSJ reviews some of the evidence:
     “A state typically returns to normal after an adverse shock not because employment picks up, but because workers leave the state,” economists Olivier Blanchard and Lawrence Katz wrote in a 1992 paper.

     This time might be different in some ways. Three economists wrote in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper last year that compared with the prerecession years, mass layoffs after 2007 prompted a “muted” migration response and many workers instead dropped out of the labor force.

     The previous, natural response to economic incentives has been seriously damped by the increased obstacles to relocation. Nearly all of those obstacles have their genesis in public policy, particularly our unprecedentedly high and broad taxes and the laws that govern them.

     I could go into detail. I could rant and rave about the many political developments – federal, state, and local – that have impeded Americans’ mobility since World War II. I could even make dark suggestions about the motivations behind those developments. But not today.

     The point is simply this: Those developments have had many effects, not the least of which that they tend to sink us in place. Get a job, get married, buy a house, have a couple of kids...and suddenly you’re cemented to your locale. Nor is the difficulty confined to married couples with minor children. Even childless singles who rent their homes can find it daunting, given the trials specific to finding somewhere to go.

     So we’re not just teetering precariously at the edge of sufficiency. We’re also chained in place.

     This is not to suggest that hauling stakes and moving was ever completely without costs or obstacles. There have always been disincentives to it. It’s just that they’ve never been as many, nor as large, as they are today.

     Given that the nation is inching out of a severe economic contraction with painful torpidity, those obstacles should get more consideration than they’ve been allowed these past few decades. It’s vital that work and workers should be encouraged to converge, and not be kept apart by political artifice. Note that the last halfway-sensible Democrat to occupy the White House, John F. Kennedy, called for a large tax-rate cut “to get the country moving again.” There are no longer any sensible Democrats, of course – LBJ and his Great Society pretty much rendered them extinct – but might I suggest that a Republican presidential candidate make a few comments about the matter? Seeing as to how Republicans are supposed to be opposed to high taxes and intrusive government anyway?

     Food for thought – and for reporters who might be interested in some fresh areas of inquiry with which to illuminate the differences among the candidates vying for federal offices in this year of Our Lord 2016.


Unknown said...

Hey, Fran… much lighter reading today than yesterday’s oppressive subject matter. As to jobs and all that’s related to them… searching, relocating, qualifying, updating skills, etc… I see that shake-out littering the economic landscape as an adversity caused by advancing technology. As to how the workforce should handle the advance, your message yesterday dropped several nuggets that pointed to the core problem. The general ethic of our America in the fifties could deal properly with our technological prowess of the last three decades… our present general ethic cannot. And there ain’t no politicians anywhere in sight, including all candidates, who can fix that. It takes every blade of grass to make a lawn. (I still want to comment on yesterday’s entree but having trouble finding uplifting and useful words… I would probably just end up quoting scripture.)

Eskyman said...

Fran, you've hit the nail on its head once again.

I've tried 3 times to express what this article means to me; each time I've failed, as my response at each attempt has become maudlin, emotional, and far too personal.

So all I can say is, "Stop looking through my keyhole!" ;-)

And for the "differences among the candidates"- well, I was born & raised in what used to be the Golden State: California. It'll never be that again, at least not in my lifetime. So I'm supporting the only candidate who has consistently called for closing the border with a Yuuuge Beautiful Wall, and who wants to stop Muslims coming in, at least temporarily. I hope and pray that the USA won't succumb to the disease that has stricken California: the flood of illegal invaders, welcomed and assisted by the socialists infecting our government, with the idiotic Jerry Brown at their head.

Once I liked Ted Cruz, until I looked into his financial backing and his wife's life work; now I see him as a fraud, doing Kabuki theater for the Establishment when he's not handing out teddy bears to the illegals. I'm not buying his act; YMMV.

Linda Fox said...

Indeed, you could argue that the current trend in government to anchor its citizens to a given locale is the imposition of a Modern Serfdom.