Increased Family Supports and Place-Based Policies Could Help Reverse Effects of Declining Geographic Mobility

Press Release

New report finds sharp declines in people moving for jobs at a time when job growth is increasingly geographically concentrated

 Contact: Jennifer Clark, clark@iwpr.org, 202-785-5100

Washington, DC—A new report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) finds an across-the-board decline in the number of people who move for their jobs. The analysis finds that these trends cannot be explained by demographic changes, such as the increase in married, dual-earning couples or the aging of the population. The report explores a number of factors that may account for this decline, including the sharp increase in the costs of housing in the areas with high job growth, stagnant real wages in many lower and middle skill jobs, and difficulties of finding affordable child care in new locations.

The report, Geographic Mobility, Gender, and the Future of Work, analyzes trends in geographic job-related mobility by gender, race, age, and marital status. Rates of job-related mobility differ substantially: low-income workers, older people, and married or single parents are the least likely to move for a job, while those most likely to move include young people, college-educated workers, and couples without children- but for each group mobility rates are lower than in the past.

Policies that increase earnings, improve access to family supports, and address the cost of housing would make it easier for workers, especially those with low incomes, to move to economically vibrant areas of the country, while place-based policies that stimulate quality job growth would help improve the economic prospects of workers who cannot or do not want to move.

Findings from the report include:

  • Lack of affordable family care increases the economic and social costs of moving. Moving to another county or state for work means leaving behind support networks that assist with child care and other family caregiving needs. As the Baby Boom generation continues to age and need more intensive care, costs will continue to increase.
  • Stagnant earnings in low-wage jobs, regardless of location, have reduced the economic returns to moving for low-income workers. As many jobs have been deskilled and wages in low-wage occupations have converged across place, the economic returns to geographic mobility have declined.
  • Inconsistent access to public benefits by location disincentivizes moving to areas with more economic opportunities. The loss of public benefits, such as housing subsidies or child care assistance, that are tied to their current location is another cost to moving for many workers. Long waiting lists for these services in economically thriving cities undermine the ability of workers to take advantage of the employment opportunities in new locations.
  • High housing costs in thriving cities negate any economic returns to moving for low-wage workers. Large increases in the cost of housing in cities with the most dynamic economies reduce the returns to moving for work and in many cases make it impossible for low-wage workers to live in these cities.

Co-author and IWPR Study Director Chandra Childers, Ph.D., commented on the findings:

“This analysis underscores that there are many financial and social considerations that affect a person’s decision to move. Assuring families that they will be able to care for loved ones and find affordable housing would make it easier for interested families to move. At the same time, not everyone wants to uproot their lives, so investing in communities would help ensure that those who want to stay where they are can still build a brighter future for their families.”

Co-author and IWPR Program Director on Employment & Earnings Ariane Hegewisch also commented:

“No one quite knows why people are so much less likely to move for a job than they used to be. What we do know is that there are many families who may benefit from moving to more economically vibrant areas. We also know that moving is costly, and it is particularly costly when you have kids and other caregiving responsibilities. Policymakers can reduce these costs by investing in the care infrastructure, which would help both families and businesses thrive.”