In 2016, US labor mobility fell to an all-time low since the Census Bureau began collecting data after World War II. Increased economic uncertainty for lower- and middle-class workers paired with cultural and political polarization have made it tougher for those in distressed, typically rural, regions to accept higher-paying jobs in thriving urban centers, if they can even get them. This has hindered the ability of growing companies in America’s most productive cities to attract talent from outside these urban cores, while also contributing to reduced socioeconomic mobility.
Problems that were previously linked to struggling cities, such as high unemployment and reliance on social services and low-income housing, are now rampant in rural areas. For those who own homes there, local housing markets have failed to recover from the late-2000s crash due to a drop in demand caused by the significant reduction in farming, manufacturing, and other blue-collar jobs. Even if a better opportunity came along somewhere else, selling their property would be tough.
Small-town workers are also put off by the socially liberal attitudes and lack of community in larger cities, so even if they can manage the financial and logistical challenges, the metropolitan culture may be too distant from their own to bear. Eventually, they begin to believe they are stuck. Examining this dilemma at the Wall Street Journal last week, Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg noted that the rate of people in rural America moving across county lines has dropped from 7.7 percent in the 1970s to 4.1 percent in 2015, and this reduction in mobility is having a significant impact on the country as a whole: