The Atlantic

The Barriers Stopping Poor People From Moving to Better Jobs

Highly educated people still relocate for work, but exorbitant housing costs in the best-paying cities make it difficult for anyone else to do so.
Source: Associated Press

MERCED, California—Seccora Jaimes knows that she is not living in the land of opportunity. Her hometown has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, at 9.1 percent. Jaimes, 34, recently got laid off from the beauty school where she taught cosmetology, and hasn’t yet found another job. Her daughter, 17, wants the family to move to Los Angeles, so that she can attend one of the nation’s top police academies. Jaimes’s husband, who works in warehousing, would make much more money in Los Angeles, she told me. But one thing is stopping them: The cost of housing. “I don’t know if we could find a place out there that’s reasonable for us, that we could start any job and be okay,” she told me. Indeed, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Merced, in California’s Central Valley, is $750. In Los Angeles, it’s $2,710.

America used to be a place where moving one’s family and one’s life in search of greater opportunities was common. During the Gold Rush, the Depression, and the postwar expansion West millions of Americans left their hometowns for places where they could earn more and provide a better life for their children. But mobility has fallen in recent years. While 3.6 percent of the population moved to a different state between 1952 and 1953, that number had fallen to 2.7 percent between 1992 and 1993, and to 1.5 percent between 2015 and 2016.

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