Giving unemployed citizens money to relocate

June 01, 2012

Giving unemployed citizens money to relocate

The unique combination of the United States' vastness and cohesiveness makes its citizens an especially mobile group. Due to its established infrastructure and strong federal government, workers are more willing to move for a job - or the prospect of a job - than in almost any other country. In fact moving out of state is so common that about a third of Americans live in a state other than the one they were born in, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Uneven cities
Despite this mobility, however, the economies of American cities are more uneven than ever before, according to the news source. At the lowest point of the recession, Detroit had an unemployment rate of 18 percent while Iowa City - only 500 miles away - stayed fixed at around 4.5 percent. With such a strong incentive to move to a city with low unemployment, why don't the unemployed simply call the out of state movers and head for greener pastures?

Relocation vouchers
There are many reasons, the news source reports, such as education level, differences in the cost of living and simple inertia. The reasons, however, aren't as compelling as the possible solution: relocation vouchers. According to the article, setting aside funds from unemployment checks to bankroll a move would help even out the jobless rates in various cities and benefit both the people who move and those who stay put. This money could be spent to help workers save up a nest egg for their move or pay for relocation movers to ensure a smooth transition.

Possible objections
Responding to the proposal of relocation vouchers, an article on Slate points out some problems. First, many cities - like Seattle and those around Silicon Valley - are not necessarily  set up for an influx of prospective workers. Despite low unemployment rates, these cities are expensive to live in and the jobs there are not necessarily aimed at out-of-work citizens of Detroit, for example.

Secondly, the modern economy isn't quite suited for this type of migration. Unlike in the past, when workers often labored in coal mines or factories, today's workers are more likely to be in the service industry, the article reports. This means that if a large portion of a city moves, many jobs will move with them as well.

With such a complicated problem it is unlikely that the debate will be settled anytime soon. However, America's history of mobility could certainly be a factor in evening out unemployment. 

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