ELEANOR BLOXHAM (Louisiana State University) is the founder and CEO of The Value Alliance and Corporate
Governance Alliance, a board and executive education, information, and advisory firm. Bloxham was admitted to Phi Kappa
Phi at Louisiana State, where she graduated with a B.A. in English. She also holds an MBA from N YU’s Stern School of Business.
Bloxham is a regular contributor to Fortune and the author of two books, Value-led Organizations and Economic Value
Management: Applications and Techniques. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The late comedian George Carlin
famously said: “The reason they call
it the American dream is because you
have to be asleep to believe it.” Arianna
Huffington, author of The Sleep
Revolution, would contend that sleep
is a necessary precondition for success.
But it turns out that, historically
speaking, not sitting still is the key:
migration and economic mobility go
hand in hand.
You’ve probably heard the career
advice a million times: when a new
opportunity is offered, seize it. Move
cross-country. Go overseas. Try a new
job even if you don’t have the requisite
experience. In the long run, you’ll look
back and be glad you did. But fewer
people, these days, seem to be following
Lyman Stone, a migration researcher,
writes that “Migration matters for
Americans,” and he notes that while
“international migration gets all
the press,” interstate and intercity
migrations are much more important.
Migration provides individuals
new opportunities, better jobs, and
improved living standards. But,
according to Stone, migration rates
between the states are in decline and are
at the lowest point in nearly a century.
A 2016 story in The Atlantic put it this
way: “Americans are less likely to switch
jobs, move to another state, or create new companies than they were thirty years ago
(or one hundred years ago). What’s going on?”
Part of what is going on is that with stagnant wages and job instability, workers are
reluctant to jump from the frying pan into the fire. The well-worn guidance to take
new opportunities was easier to follow when layoffs were infrequent, companies more
stable, and those employers paid the full freight of relocation — and even sweetened
So when companies complain about a shortage of skilled workers, perhaps they’ve
created a business climate that is the opposite of migration-friendly.
What might buck the migration trend? Implementing no-layoff policies as
Occidental Petroleum did in 2016 could go a long way.
Raising wages to cover higher housing expenses could also help. The Atlantic article
points out that “between 1880 and 1980, people generally moved from poor states to
rich states, seeking the best jobs … . But today, not only are families moving less, but
also they’re moving in the opposite direction, from rich areas to poorer areas, mainly
because of housing costs.” And inequality between states, as a result, is increasing,
creating a vicious cycle.
Another solution may also exist. Tapping into the power of technology, more
companies could fill skill gaps and boost the economy by allowing workers to migrate
virtually to take on job opportunities without relocation requirements.
Clearly, the migration problem must be solved. “Every dimension of declining
American dynamism is connected. The slowdown in most areas’ business
development comes from a shifting tide in American migration,” according to The
Atlantic. The 2015 Scientific American article that quotes Carlin on the American
dream cites statistics that demonstrate that what Carlin was saying is no joke. The
bottom 40 percent of Americans own a mere 0.3 percent of American wealth, the
article states. The family who founded Walmart, the Waltons, alone “has more wealth
than 42 percent of American families combined.”