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Blue States: Traps for the Poor

One of the most pronounced trends of the 2000’s is now grinding to a temporary halt — the migration of the American population from the Northeastern and Midwestern rust belt to the more temperate sun belt states of the South and Southwest. Cities like Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix had long been magnets for Americans fleeing the cold weather and lack of jobs up north for new and sunnier opportunities in the South. The recession, however, has put the brakes on this. From the New York Times:

Essentially, millions of Americans have become frozen in place, researchers say, unable to sell their homes and unsure they would find jobs elsewhere anyway. […]

“When times get really hard it gets really hard for people to up and move,” said Kenneth M. Johnson, the senior demographer at the Carsey Institute, who conducted the analysis. “People who might have left New York for North Carolina are staying put.”

Bad news. Weather aside, the pre-recession southward migration was driven by one key factor: jobs. For a poor family living in a crumbling city with bad schools and no future, the move south promised jobs and a lower cost of living; while plenty chose to remain, many sold their houses and headed south.  Now, thanks in part to the collapsed housing market, many people can’t afford to escape.

Perhaps in the next round of stimulus spending the federal government could offer relocation assistance grants so that more Americans could move to the states that still have an economy left.

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  • Mrs. Davis

    Perhaps in the next round in the next round of stimulus spending the federal government could simply cut taxes and stop bailing out corporations and individuals from the stupid decisions they made and let them start to take responsibility for their lives and learn some lessons. Instead we teach them that they should do dumb things in the future because the nanny state will bail them out for a vote or a campaign donation.

  • Chase Crucil

    Professor, I know you have some serious concerns about the blue state model, and thanks to some of your excellent essays, I have come to share those concerns. That said, I think you need to do some thinking about the current state of “red state” America. I think that you might come to the conclusion that the sunbelt isn’t all sweetness and light either.

    According to this website, the five states with the highest unemployment rates are Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, The District of Columbia, Michigan, California and Nevada. Of all these states, two are “blue states” and the four are “red states.” For economic purposes I have classified Nevada as a red state because it is known for it’s low taxes, weak public services and cheap land.

    Note that Florida had Jeb Bush as governor for most of the last decade and a large GOP majority in the legislature, so the Democrats cannot be blamed for the problems there, and Mississippi and South Carolina are as conservative as as states come in America.

  • Scotty

    “Perhaps in the next round of stimulus spending the federal government could offer relocation assistance grants so that more Americans could move to the states that still have an economy left.”

    Sir – I hope that was sarcasm! The economy and infrastructure out here in “fly-over country” couldn’t possibly support hordes of displace Californians. Besides, we really would prefer they stay where they are and leave us to our “quaint” ho-hum oh-so-stodgy lifestyles. I watched them destroy Vegas in the 90s, I would hate to see the same thing happen here.

  • lhf

    One of the unintended consequences of encouraging the poor to buy houses is that it locks them in place if they can’t sell. People at the bottom of the economic scale must be able to follow the jobs. Probably many would like to move to Williston (ND), but are trapped by houses they own, can’t sell and can’t rent.

    This is not true of the OWS crowd, however, who seem to have the time and resources to camp out for weeks away from home.

  • Random Dude

    @Scotty: “Destroy Vegas”? Wouldn’t that be a feat along the lines of ‘Corrupting a Prostitute’?

    Btw, here in SF we’ve been absorbing the displaced lumpen from “Fly-over” land for years and years and years…

  • Mike

    How about a public-private partnership between government and industry to help people who want to relocate to another state for a job but can’t because of the value of their home having depreciated so much. Either in the form of a tax credit given to the individual or a mortgage modification process.

    If the govt is going to give out endless tax credits for “green energy” and if the GE and whirlpool types game the system and pay no taxes, isn’t empowering individuals through the tax code so that they can make better career moves worthy of consideration?

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