Static Americans and unemployment

I managed to catch about five minutes of Rush today, during which time he talked about the fact that some states are floating the idea (or actually going through with the idea) of cutting down the length of time for state unemployment benefits.  Rush’s comment (and I’m paraphrasing) was to the effect that “Good, those people can now go get to work.”

I know that he was castigating the type of people who see unemployment as a permanent lifestyle, not a temporary life line.  The former will scam whatever system is available and our current system certainly offers a lot of opportunities for scammers.

Regarding those who do want work, though, I thought to myself, “Rush is being unfair.”  Thanks to Obama’s and the Democrats’ execrable economic policies, the employment market has shrunk dramatically.  Even with the best will in the world, there are no jobs to be had — or, more accurately, in certain regions there are no jobs to be had.  That’s when I had a thought that I’ve mentioned here before, but thought I’d mention again:  Unlike Americans in days of yore, we are no longer a pioneer culture that will travel for work.

It’s rather ironic, isn’t it?  In the old days, travel was onerous beyond imagining.  Our American ancestors traveled by ox drawn covered wagons, on horseback, on foot, down rivers, on slow-moving filthy trains, and on sailing ships that took months to circumnavigate South America.  Nowadays, we board planes, trains and automobiles.  If we’re on a ship, it’s merely for a pleasure cruise.

Yet it was in the old days that the paradigm saw people pack up their life’s belongings and move far, far away in hopes of a better economic situation.  In those days, moving away meant that, as likely as not, unless your friends and family came with you, you’d never see them again.  You couldn’t take advantage of Southwest’s periodic $69 sales to give mom a hug in person.  Once you left, you left for good.

What I wonder is why we have become such an immobile people.  If there are no jobs in City A or State B, why are we so reluctant to move to City C or State D?  The logistics of moving are always challenging.  Packing and unpacking are onerous tasks under the best of circumstances, and travel, though relatively easy, is still expensive.  But I think it goes deeper than that.  We have, over the past 200 years become more European in that we are more rooted.  We might move around a bit to go to college and right after college, but once we settle in our suburban house, there we stay.

America’s current static ethos is helped by welfare.   In the old days, it was often a choice between moving or starving.  Now, unless you’re moving up to a better job or a better community, why not just stay in your familiar environment and collect welfare checks?

Fundamentally, there are almost certainly jobs to be had somewhere in America.  Americans are just unwilling to go looking for them.  (Incidentally, as someone who is a nester, meaning that once I find a place I like to nest and not move, I’m not certain what I would do if economic disaster struck.  I’d like to think that I’d move on, rather than moldering in the same old place.)

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  • David Foster

    Some economists have identified home ownership as an inhibitor to mobility–obviously harder to pick up & move when you have a house to deal with then when you’re renting (especially if the house is underwater)
    It also seems likely that when both members of a couple work (or want/need to work) it’s harder to move than when only one does, since you have to find a location with appropriate employers for both of them.

  • NancyB

    It’s funny – I just finished reading a “free” kindle novel – old fashioned romance before women’s lib and when men were real men.  And what really struck me is that you could just decide to start a business and start one.  There were no regulations.  You just did what you do well and convinced others to buy your product or service and, Voila,
    you  had a business.  Not like today – well… more need be said about that.   And also it seemed that in “the old days” people were more willing to do what needs to be done to make a living……..Today we also have to worry that both partners can get a job.  So who will stay home with the kids when you move to a city without friends or relatives?   Just ruminating………..

  • Charles Martel

    NancyB, that’s what Mexicans are for: nannies. That way both parents can have a job wherever they are and still occasionally engage in raising the small citizens in the house who speak Spanish.

  • NancyB

    True Charles – God forbid that Mom stay home and Dad have to make all the money.  And even worse, then the kids won’t grow up to be bilingual – which of course is the real reason for nannies.


    Another facet is that we no longer live in small communities. Many of us grew up with family members within walking distance. Aunt Betty lived two blocks away and across the street was cousin Sam and his children, who were our playmates. The Levittown dream of a single home of the 1950’s had Aunt Betty purchasing the model. Cousin Sam, eventually followed. Sam’s kids didn’t want to move to Levittown, so they moved to California or Atlanta, anywhere but Levittown.  Sam’s grandchildren are currently retired and living in Florida and they’re not budging.
    My point is, Americans were on the move in the 1950’s and 60’s. New vistas, new jobs and leaving an old apartment in the city was, well it was a relief for many.  Out with old and in with new. Even the new gets old one day and subsequent generations just ran out of steam and a dream. Eventually, many families became fragmented for a variety of reasons – parent or parents in different cities, grandparents, cousins in others. Childhood friends off to the four corners of here or elsewhere. I think at this point, most people are staying put or as close to roots they once knew with or without a job or money. There is a fear of loosing any more familiarity with the day to day lives.

  • jj

    I think perhaps this is – in part, anyway –  another one of those swinging pendulums at work.  For much of my life it was always promulgated that the average American family moves every 7 years.  The people with whom I interacted when living abroad found this to be absolutely astonishing.  (As someone for whom ‘home base’ remained in the same place for my first 31 years I found it pretty surprising myself.  My oldest friend, come to think of it, with whom I have been close since we first encountered when I was 7 months old, remains at the family compound where he has spent over 65 years.)  But to move every 7 years? That’s not mobility, that’s hyperactivity!

    And above and beyond all the other considerations, we may just be reacting to decades of not being around when granny and the great-uncles and aunts and cousins were moving on into whatever comes next.  It seems to me there hasn’t been much sense of family in this society for a while and, above and beyond economic situations and realities, it may be that we’re looking to perhaps rediscover and reclaim a little piece of that.  A sense of place, as well as a sense of family.

    Of course economics play a part in this.  A lot of younger people move back home less because they find something in it good for their soul than they do out of a need to find something good for their wallet, no question.  But many of them, at least the ones I seem to see, manage to find some more – and maybe better – things than they might have expected. 

    I’m a country kid, and old enough for it not to have been entirely odd to know households wherein 3 – or even more – generations lived beneath the same roof.  I am unable to see a lot that’s bad about being in the neighborhood of most of the rest of those to whom you’re related.

    I don’t know anybody on welfare, so I could be way off base.

  • Mike Devx

    I’ve been mulling over this post of Book’s.

    What I’ve noticed anecdotally is that within my industry (software), there is actually quite a bit of mobility that coworkers and their families are exercising.  But these are people who are currently gainfully employed and have goals, and to achieve those goals, they resign and change positions – and it requires moving.  Sometimes it is a change of position within the company; sometimes they resign and change companies.

    But they and their families move, often to a different State.

    Among family and friends I hear similar anecdotes of what’s going on in other occupations.  (Side note: In researching Herman Cain, I found out he moved his family to Nebraska from Pennsylvania (or was it from Minnesota?) when he took over the operations of Godfathers Pizza within Pillsbury.)

    So, among those currently holding jobs, I see the ability to land another job and greater willingness to move.  I also see, in two-income families, that in some cases one parent will leave the family for extended periods of time, even years, renting, to achieve the family goals – returning home as often as is financially possible.

    Why don’t we see this among the jobless?  During a Michigan recession in the 70’s, a *lot* of jobless people moved from Michigan to Texas, where jobs were plentiful.  My sister and her boyfriend were among them.  They spent two years in Houston, but were unhappy and returned.  But they went, and stayed for two years.  (On return they were only marginally better off.)

    It should be no harder to sell your home or deal with a lease whether you’re employed or unemployed.  (Perhaps loans or renegotiated compensation to cover relocation costs often assist the “jobbed”?  Not usually anecdotally, though.)

    Another anecdote: A friend of a friend was unemployed, seeking a job.  Nearly all of the potential interviews he didn’t even accept, considering the offered jobs “beneath him”, and these were jobs in the industry!  To the best of my knowledge he remains jobless, and it’s more than two years now.

    It used to be the case that to retain unemployment benefits, you had to prove continued effort at finding a new job, or they’d cut the unemployment benefits off.  Is that still the case?  What if you’d been offered a position that required a move and you ignored it – would you get cut off?

    I’d love to see a study on this on the unemployed.  (After all a study is basically a collection of anecdotes, with the rigor of selecting the proper sample population, in both size and composition, to be considered statistically relevant.)


    It used to be the case that to retain unemployment benefits, you had to prove continued effort at finding a new job, or they’d cut the unemployment benefits off.
    I believe it varies from state to state. I was once unemployed, during the typewriter years ( a long time ago). Here in Pa. you were given a card and had to show at least 4-6 places you attempted to find work. There was an empty space on the card where the prospective employer had to sign his/her name, name of company, address, telephone number. At the end of the week, I had to appear at the unemployment office. No appearance and no signed card – no check.
    I’d hazard a guess that it’s all done by telephone or computer now with less information required with occasional spot checks here and there.