Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Where are those jobs at?

Labor mobility (per the ever-knowing Wikipedia):

Labor mobility or worker mobility is the socioeconomic ease with which an individual or groups of individuals who are currently receiving remuneration in the form of wages can take advantage of various economic opportunities.

Worker mobility is best gauged by the lack of impediments to such mobility. Impediments to mobility are easily divided into two distinct classes with one being personal and the other being systemic. Personal impediments include physical location, and physical and mental ability. The systemic impediments include educational opportunities as well as various laws and political contrivances and even barriers and hurdles arising from historical happenstance.

Increasing and maintaining a high level of labor mobility allows a more efficient allocation of resources.
Historically the US has had a very high mobility of our labor force. This has provided the United States with a mechanism to rebound and re-allocate resources following a downturn (i.e. moving from where the jobs were lost, to the next cycles jobs). As John Hempton described from an "outsiders" (he's Australian) point of view:
America has an amazingly mobile population – with almost all of the world’s busiest airports inside the US. Almost nobody seems to live in the town in which they are born. It is OK for Las Vegas to have a tourism based economy, Los Angeles to be based on entertainment and aerospace and Florida to be retirement because people in the US move when one part of the economy is struggling.
More recently, there has been a lot of discussion about how the housing bubble and subsequent collapse will impact labor mobility (homeowners don't want to realize the loss, thus won't move to where the new jobs are). While this may be an issue, there haven't exactly been too many new jobs identified for the masses to go...

The BLS reports:
From December 2008 to December 2009, employment declined in 325 of the 334 largest U.S. counties according to preliminary data, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Trumbull, Ohio, posted the largest percentage decline, with a loss of 8.6 percent over the year, compared with a national job decrease of 4.1 percent. Almost 54 percent of the employment decline in Trumbull occurred in manufacturing, which lost 3,504 jobs over the year (-22.7 percent). Arlington, Va., experienced the largest over-the-year percentage increase in employment among the largest counties in the U.S., with a gain of 0.5 percent.
Employment in the 335 Largest Counties - Orange is the U.S. Average

Source: BLS


  1. OK, point taken, it is interesting that there is no place where the economy is really booming. And I would even agree that the lack of jobs overall is, of course, the main issue.

    But this doesn't disprove that there is a labor mobility issue as well. There are some jobs that aren't getting filled, and an important question is why.

    In a 31 March speech, Dennis Lockhart of FRB Atlanta said, "In 2008, the percentage of individuals living in a county or state different than the previous year was the lowest recorded in more than 50 years of data." While that (and other) evidence of a lack of labor mobility is circumstantial, it seems fairly convincing.

  2. Overcapacity on all levels with only those jobs immune to economic slowdowns (government) able to stay the course. The US is too highly dependant on the fiancial sector and asset prices and have ignored structural changes to things like job markets (many others) for 20 years. How else can one explain indices close to highs a while back when 9 million plus people have lost a job?