In search of opportunity: changing patterns among people who move where the jobs are

by Ryan Streeter on October 2, 2013. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

This Jim Russell post makes an important point, often overlooked, about how migration patterns have changed in a fundamental way in the last half century or so:

Prior to 1965 or so, migrants typically lacked education and were low-skilled. Those who most needed to move, did so. Today, the opposite is true. I’m playing around with different theories as to what explains the flip-flop in pattern. Providing one clue, U.S. immigration policy shifted in the 1960s (1965 Immigration Act) toward the highly skilled.

Lower-skilled people used to be the ones who moved in search of opportunity. Today, they are often stuck in areas where opportunity is waning, while higher-skilled workers hit the road looking for opportunity. Russell continues:

In the United States this meant the concentration of college graduates in a few winning cities, usually those benefiting from the federal largess from defense contracts or government labs. Both Richard Florida and Enrico Moretti have expressed concern about the growing talent gap between places. The suggested fix is counter-intuitive. Moretti thinks the low-skilled should move to the regions with the highest real estate costs.

This has some policy implications which he speculates about in the rest of the post.