Education and mobility

Americans are fairly restless. Only 58 percent of US residents live in the state where they were born. In Colorado, only 2.1 million of the state’s 5 million residents are “natives” (although this is one of the lowest ratios in the nation, it still leaves a lucrative bumper sticker market).

Education is one of the leading predictors of mobility. In the US about 28 percent of the population 25+ years of age has at least a Bachelor’s degree, yet 39 percent of all interstate movers in 2010 had such an education. In contrast, 43 percent of the 25+ population has a high school degree or less, a group that constitutes 33 percent of all interstate moves.

Economists point to several reasons for the discrepancy. Most important is that the economic gains from migration tend to be higher as education increases. An attorney may be able to substantially increase their salary simply by moving from one place (say Denver) to another (say Manhattan). Conversely, upward wage mobility is less common within occupations requiring less education (a retail clerk probably won’t see a large wage increase by moving from one place to another).

A second reason is the importance of social and family networks, especially for practical reasons. Given the strong correlation between education and income, it is often the case that workers with lower education attainments have less ability to pay for childcare. Accordingly, they may rely on family and friends, rather than pay someone for such care. In such instances, moving simply becomes unaffordable.

So what’s the takeaway? Some people are arguing that the labor market is functioning just fine, with low unemployment in North Dakota and some other place as evidence that there are jobs out there, it’s just that people will have to move to get them. Although this may be true for some (especially the highly educated), it is much less of a solution for many people. Unemployment in Colorado is still too high.

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