The divisive debate over the United States' immigration policy continues unabated. The question of who we let in our borders tends to obscure another matter that deeply impacts our economy -- the significant decline in how freely people are moving around within our borders. As a recent article in the Wall Street Journal put it: "The drop in mobility is not only keeping rural residents from climbing a ladder to better livelihoods, it is choking off the labor supply for employers in areas where jobs are plentiful."
The United States has seen a number of large migrations to places where economic opportunities existed. "The Grapes of Wrath" -- a high school favorite for English teachers -- describes in stark detail how people left the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma (due to a severe drought) to seek employment in California. I witnessed the impact of mass migration growing up in Detroit. Many of my neighbors were from the South, having left an agriculture-based economy to work in the auto factories and the businesses that arose around them as the result of the corresponding prosperity.
The mobility of the U.S. population is the lowest it's been since World War II according to the Wall Street Journal. The situation is striking because many rural areas and small towns are "in an economic funk brought on by the decline of manufacturing and farm consolidation." A troubling aspect of this situation "is that while lots of struggling residents see leaving as the best way to improve their lives, a surprising share remain stuck in place."