Jobs and Upward Mobility
Three types of migration are necessary to keep our global economy strong. First, people move internally within a country in order to find jobs or to be part of a center of excellence. Second, people move from the suburbs to the cities during recessions. And, third, immigrants from around the world move to new countries for all sorts of reasons. Accepting mobility as a way of life can create new sources of innovation which are necessary for a flourishing economy. I recently was reminded of this when I visited Nashville, Tennessee.
I’ve spent time in Nashville twice in the last year to enjoy the CMT Awards (Country Music Television Awards). Growing up in Chicago, my first exposure to Nashville was through the TV Show called Hee Haw, which first ran in 1969 as a comedy variety show akin to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. I remember thinking characters portrayed as being from this rural town were silly and non-cosmopolitan. During my recent visits, I discovered that this city reinvented itself, attracting many successful businesses. It now represents the apogee of the country music and the Christian music industries. It is also a symbol for the major migration trend which shows Americans moving from their state of birth in order to seek opportunity. I decided to research and analyze how the cities of Nashville and Chicago changed in the last 30 years and what it means for those of us who want to understand the future of work in a global economy.
Tale of Two Cities
In 1970, the city of Chicago had a population of 3.4 million people, a decrease of 5.2% from the 1960 census. In 1970, Nashville had 448,000 people, a 162% increase from the prior decennial census. In other words, Chicago was about 7.5 times larger than Nashville when I first watched Hee Haw and even then it was clear that Nashville was growing at leaps and bounds. In 2000, Chicago had a population of 2.9 million people. Meanwhile, Nashville grew to 1,231,000 (by 25% from the prior decennial census). In other words, Chicago is only 2.3 times larger than Nashville now. In that same time period, the percentage of people in the U.S. who no longer lived in their state of birth grew from 26% to 40%. This remarkable lifetime migration number of the U.S.--born population reflects Americans’ embrace of mobility. If the jobs are not in Chicago or Detroit, people move.
The top ten employers in Nashville may well surprise you. Besides state and city government, they include Vanderbilt University and Medical Center, health care companies, auto-related companies such as Nissan, GM, Bridgestone, and, of course, Gaylord Entertainment, a publicly-traded $1 billion company. Cities like Nashville are the new hubs for work in the U.S. economy. This may be due to many factors including less workforce unionization and lower labor costs, tax policies, housing affordability, education, and the quality of life. For example, in Nashville where the median age is 36 years old, 85 percent of people 25 years and over had at least graduated from high school and 33 percent had a bachelor's degree or higher. Ten percent of the people living in Nashville’s county in 2005 were foreign-born. In total, 60% of Nashville’s population came from outside of the state.
Cities Grow at Suburbs’ Expense
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal (July 1, 2009) showed that when unemployed people can’t find a job where they live, they move from the suburbs to the city to look for work. Cities offer more jobs in greater concentrations. Chicago’s population growth rate was slightly positive in 2008 and 2007 reversing a decline of the previous five years. The article indicated that “a bigger share of immigrants are moving to central cities, instead of directly to the suburbs as they had during the real estate boom.” This has major implications on the infrastructure of the cities including schools and housing. The four fastest growing cities by region, since last July are New York City; Wichita, Kansas; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Aurora, Colorado. Each city touts a pro-business attitude including many education, training, and financial assistance programs available to qualified businesses.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) revealed that immigrants in wealthy countries are suffering more during this current economic crisis than the native-born population. Immigrant unemployment levels before the crisis were generally lower than for the native-born population, often because immigrants will take any job available. Now, immigrant workers’ unemployment rate in the U.S. is about 10%, 60 basis points worse than the overall unemployment rate. The OECD asserts that: “Wealthy countries, including the U.S., should avoid taking too many steps to discourage immigrants from coming, because many will need immigrant workers in the long run.” I concur with this position because some of our best and innovative workers come from places outside of our country.
The current economic crisis has prompted people to reconsider where they live and work. Whether you move to a new city, from the suburbs to the urban environment, or from your native country, you are part of the great diaspora that keeps the economy humming. Americans have learned that migration—even within the U.S.—is necessary if you want to thrive. Keep moving!