Thursday, March 26, 2009

The newly immobile United States

One of the best things about America has always been the ability to reinvent oneself by moving to a new place. In my case, that's been pretty limited -- Long Beach to San Diego to Upland to Los Angeles -- but for many people born in small towns in the heartland, moving to a big city or the coasts has been the first step to create a new life. For others, when a new job beckoned, they'd simply sell their home, wait until the kids were out of school and move during the summer. But now, with so many homeowners underwater and health insurance (ridiculously) tied to employment, people stay rooted in places that no longer fit and working at jobs they hate. What does that mean for the U.S. economy? The Economist ponders that very question:

...throughout history, Americans have dealt with economic shocks by picking themselves up and moving on. Their mobility underpins America’s flexible, dynamic labour market. Now it faces two threats.

One is the housing bust. House prices have collapsed by 27% since their peak in 2006. By December last year a fifth of homeowners with mortgages owed more than their homes were worth. Such people are only half as likely to move as those whose homes are above water, estimate Joseph Gyourko and Fernando Ferreira of the Wharton School of business.

Some cannot sell their homes at all. Others could, but don’t want to take a big loss on an investment they thought was safe as houses. Either way, they are stuck. If a good job comes up in another town, they cannot take it. This effect is partly offset by the impact of foreclosures. Last month alone 291,000 homes received a foreclosure notice. The newly evicted are not merely free but obliged to move. This is unfortunate, but although jobs are in short supply nearly everywhere, being mobile at least increases the odds of finding one...

The other threat to mobility is health insurance. A company can buy health insurance for its employees with pre-tax dollars; an individual can buy it only with after-tax dollars. So although soaring premiums are prompting many firms to drop or restrict coverage, most Americans still get their health insurance from their jobs...

Tying health care to a job can tie people to jobs they hate. Gerry Stover, who now runs a doctors’ group in West Virginia, recalls a time when his wife was pregnant and he couldn’t get health insurance at a private firm. He became a prison guard. As a public employee, his family was covered. But the job was neither pleasant nor a good use of his talents...

Some people even get stuck in bad marriages because they need their spouse’s health insurance. As Alain Enthoven of Stanford University puts it, this gives new meaning to the word “wedlock”. The recession seems to have slowed internal migration. Only 11.9% of Americans moved house between 2007 and 2008—the most sluggish pace since records began in the 1940s....

3 comments:

Aji said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Kaylee

http://www.craigslistsimplified.info

Pandi said...

We feel the pain.My home is now worth exactly the same amount I paid for in 2003.A decline of 25% from the peak in March 2006.I cant sell.I have to hold onto my job(I am happy I have one) and we live month-to-month,cause even if one of us loses our job..we cant last more than 4 months.

george said...

well it shows you the worthlessness of the lies the NAR has been peddling all these years. all about the empowerment of buying a 'home.'
more like the chains and shackles of buying a 'home.'
i hope you agree that it is perhaps the most despicable trade group in the USA and should be prosecuted under RICO!