What is Geographical Labor Mobility?

Geographical labor mobility refers to the level of flexibility and freedom laborers have to move in order to find gainful employment in their field.

Key Takeaways

  • Geographic labor mobility refers to the ability to qualitatively measure the ability of workers within a specific economy to relocate in order to find new or better employment.
  • Geographic labor mobility is determined by several factors, from transportation options to standards of living and other government-related policies.
  • The rate of geographic labor mobility within the United States has been consistently declining since the 1980s.

Understanding Geographical Labor Mobility

Geographic labor mobility is used to qualitatively measure the ability of workers within a specific economy to relocate to find new or better employment. In global economic terms, the European Union actively tries to increase the geographic labor mobility of individuals by helping qualified workers work in other countries and cross national borders to spur individual, corporate and national economic growth. If a government wants to increase geographic labor mobility, there are several actions it can take. The country can support transportation options, helping raise the standards of living, and advance government policies that help with mobility within an economy.

There are several determinants of geographic labor mobility. The most major root factors are transportation options, standards of living, and other government-related policies which serve as the main determinants of an economy’s fluidity of geographic labor mobility. At the economic level, a region's size, distance and aggregate job opportunities determine the geographic labor mobility. At the personal level, however, determinants of the individual’s specific personal circumstances, such as family situations, housing issues, local infrastructure and individual education affect the geographic labor mobility. An economy's level of trade is also a direct factor in the geographic labor mobility of its workforce. For example, increasing the level of domestic and international trade requires that offices and other institutions be opened in various parts of a country, increasing job opportunities in these locations.

Other Elements That Affect Geographic Mobility

In addition to the major root factors there are other specific key factors that can make geographic labor mobility more or less available. First, the aggregate level of education influences the mobility of the labor force, with a higher education generally resulting in greater ability to move in order to find employment.

Personal and cultural attitudes also drive labor mobility. For example, if an individual employee has no motivation to seek employment elsewhere, they will not, which results in low geographic labor mobility. Agricultural developments can also affect labor mobility as they drive people from densely populated areas to less-densely populated areas during busy seasonal periods.

Another key determinant is industrialization. Highly industrialized economies provide more blue collar job opportunities, which increases the labor mobility of the economy. More specifically, an industrialized economy helps workers move from rural locations to larger cities where there are more job opportunities.

Geographic Labor Mobility In the United States

The United States presents an interesting case study of geographic labor mobility during and after development of economic systems. Geographic labor mobility provides several benefits to a nation's economy. Important among them is an increased supply of labor and productivity.

When the country was expanding westward and new industries were being developed, geographic labor mobility was at its peak as new migrants and the existing population moved to places with economic promise. However, it has declined consistently since the 1980s. According to Census data released in 2015, the rate of movement between states has fallen by half while the rate of mobility between counties has declined by a third.

Several possible reasons have been put forward for these declines. According to the Census bureau, aging and increased rates of homeownership are two reasons why Americans are not moving as much as they used to. People in professions that require in-state licensing are less likely to move than those in professions that do not. Further research by economists investigating unemployment rates during the Great Recession found that low-skilled workers are less likely to migrate because they are more impacted by increases in public assistance and a decline in housing costs.