People Don't Move for Jobs When There Are No Jobs

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The Wall Street Journal claimed that a main reason that the economy is growing slowly and not creating jobs is that people are not willing to move because they are often underwater in their homes. The evidence that it presents to support this assertion is dubious.

First, it notes that only 2.9 million people moved for a job in 2009 compared to 4.5 million in 1999. There are two major differences between these years. First, the work force was considerably older in 2009 with most of the baby boomers in their 50s and 60s. These workers are much less likely to move than younger workers.

More importantly, the economy lost 5 million jobs in 2009. It created 3 million jobs in 1999. This means that there were many fewer jobs to move for in 2009 than in 1999.

The best evidence that the sort of housing lock discussed in this article is creating a problem would be to show large sections of the country with rapidly rising wages. Offhand, it would be difficult to identify any significant region where this is the case and the article certainly does not identify one. (It does note an employer in South Dakota who complains about being unable to find workers, but it doesn't report the wages he is offering.)

A recent analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics Displaced Workers Survey found no evidence that homeowners in states that had seen sharp declines in house prices were any less likely to move to get a new job than other homeowners. It would be useful if articles like this one based its judgments on data instead of anecdotes.