Dying Worker Mobility and the Economy


There is something to be said for the benefits of worker mobility, which helped define the U.S. economy from the 1950s until recently. People would relocate to find the best jobs. Employers had access to large pools of potential workers because they could call on candidates from outside their immediate geographic locations. The movement was aided by a long period in which home prices mostly rose. People could sell a home with financial benefit, if it was best for them to move for a better job.

A workforce that is not mobile almost certainly robs both employers and employees of key benefits. Companies are forced to review smaller pools of candidates. Stationary workers cannot better themselves in terms of pay and increased skills. America finds itself in a period in which labor force movement is frozen, probably because of millions of underwater mortgages and people who fear that, if they do relocate, the poor economy puts their new jobs at risk.

New data from Gallup show:

Gallup finds workers in 2012 report staying at their current company more years on average than they did in 2002, having only asked that question twice. The average time at one's current company is 9.2 years in 2012 compared with an average of 7.4 years in 2002.

The difference, which occurred over such a short period, is stunning.

The same poll shows that workers have continued to labor the same number of hours now and through the recession. This may be because companies that cut workforces tried to squeeze additional productivity from employees who remained.

There is already anecdotal evidence that people who are without jobs for long periods lose critical skills, and this makes them less desirable to potential employers. The dying mobile workforce causes a related problem. People who stay too long at one job may learn to do it very well, but that is all they learn.

Methodology: Results are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 9 to 12, 2012, with a random sample of 1,012 adults, aged 18+, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Douglas A. McIntyre

Filed under: 24/7 Wall St. Wire, Labor