Captive Labor Markets and Migration

A captive labor pool (like working mothers who are unlikely to move their children) drives down wages. And as labor becomes more captive over time, the divide between rich and poor grows wider.
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(PHOTO: PIOTR MARCINSKI/SHUTTERSTOCK)

(PHOTO: PIOTR MARCINSKI/SHUTTERSTOCK)

I cultivated an interest in talent migration via human rights advocacy. How could I get American voters to support the ratification of United Nations conventions? I settled on matters of citizenship. Non-citizens didn't enjoy the same constitutional protections as citizens. In fact, I learned that where you are located determines the force of international treaties. Geography and sovereignty impact international human rights law. Places, not people, have rights.

Not all migrants fall into legal spatial loopholes such as Guantanamo. Cosmopolities above the fray hop from global city to global city. Geographic mobility is power. The most willing to move make the most money. Which brings me to a second preoccupation of mine, the relationship between migration and economic development.

A gender analysis of mobility from geographer Susan Hanson:

Location and the nature of locally available employment opportunities is believed to shape labor force participation, job type, and wages. Analysts investigating this issue have encountered problems in operationalizing the concept of “locally available employment opportunities.” We first review the grounds for expecting a relationship between local context and employment outcomes for women and then critically assess the methods and measures that analysts have used to explore the relationship. Finally, we describe a new approach for measuring local employment context that consists of a fine-scaled measure individually tailored for each woman in the sample. Using discriminant analysis we ask whether the spatial variables measuring local employment context are important determinants of women's employment in female-dominated occupations. The results suggest that for most groups of women (defined by city or suburban residence and by sociodemographics) the spatial variables are not important. For well-educated, part-time employed women with young children, however, living in an area rich in female-dominated job opportunities increases the likelihood of having a job in a gender-typical occupation; for these women, the local employment context does affect labor market outcomes.

Children restrict the geographic mobility of working mothers. Employers exploit these constraints via lesser wages. The labor pool is captive, driving down pay. Now back to a recurring theme for this blog, declining geographic mobility within the United States:

Whatever the explanation, [the authors find] that the wage gains associated with switching jobs have fallen over time, suggesting that workers now have less to gain from moving to a different company or job. If true, that’s a huge deal, they note, since for a long time “economists have surmised that changing employers is a main channel of individual-level wage growth.” Increasingly, it appears, that’s no longer true.

Labor is becoming more captive, more like part-time employed women with young children. For the working class, migration used to be a great asset. Now, the best educated are the most mobile. The gulf between rich and poor gets wider. Move or die.

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