Why Relocating for a Job is So 1980

by Darwin on December 11, 2012

Nevada is the place to be a card counter, Kentucky is a haven for jockeys, and Florida is the best place to be a crocodile hunter. But unless you’re in one of these niche fields, the best state to work might just be your own. Relocating for a job is out, according to new research in migration.

A study of available jobs from state to state reveals that states and their employment possibilities are more similar than ever before. Since the 1980s, the variance between jobs and their salaries from state is in perpetual decline. Job opportunities in Massachusetts, for example, are the same as those in Mississippi.

Here’s the change in variance of jobs by industry and career over time:

The research shows that individual states have become more like one another. While you’re unlikely to get a natural gas job in California, or an acting role in North Dakota, most careers are as available in one place as they are another, no matter how specialized.

Why Relocating for a Job is Dead

The research team behind the project wanted to learn why Americans are no longer moving. After adjusting for the real estate bubble, college education, and a great many more factors that have changed since 1980, they came to the simple conclusion that the labor market is more efficient than ever before.

Here’s why:

    1. Informational asymmetry is gone – The internet and falling airline prices post-deregulation make it possible for more people to see more places than ever before. No longer do people travel to new cities on a whim to evaluate potential job opportunities. Sites like The Ladders (I LOVE the free reports on what 6-Figure jobs are available in my area) make it possible to see careers all over the United States without traveling thousands of miles. Since 1991, as information began to flow more freely online, migration has fallen for people of all ages.
    2. Rise in telecommuting – Researchers find that managers and service workers are only slightly less likely to migrate than all other occupations. Falling communication costs and email make it easier, faster, and less costly for information to travel between offices.
    3. Localized “outsourcing” – Just as companies outsource overseas to reduce labor costs, big firms are moving jobs around the United States to arbitrage labor cost disparities. Dallas, Texas is an excellent example as it has low costs of living and an educated populace ready to work. The city is an oddity in that it has a growing finance and technology sector in a state and city better known for oil fields and cattle ranches.
    4. Relocation packages are costly – Employers find it is easier to open new operations than relocate employees. A typical relocation package which covers moving costs and even closing cost and down payment support is simply too expensive in a reality in which the average worker will have more than seven employers over his or her lifetime.
    5. Cities over states – Researchers ultimately conclude that while geography is important, the biggest change is in the role of cities. Localized economies in big cities sustain a very diverse job market for everyone.

Anecdotally, it seems a workers’ willingness to chase new job opportunities around the country may be much lower today than in years gone by. Nothing is guaranteed any more – at least not in the same way a job offer might have been a guaranteed way to have a long, lengthy career in a new place to call home. Employers may be more likely to appease employee’s conservatism in the job hunt.


How much would it take you to move for a job?

Would you need more or less in 2012 than in 2004, 2000, or even 1990?

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