What Cities Can Do to Make America Move Again

Americans instinctively know that sometimes, in order to move up, you have to move out. And moving from one place to another has long been a key element of upward mobility in the nation.

Yeah, not so much anymore. America has become a nation of homebodies. And it’s not doing the economy, or America’s urban centers, a lot of good.

The ‘Go West, young man!’ ethic knitted into America’s DNA has apparently been lost on the young people. In fact, the few people who are moving around the country are retirees, not the scrappy young upstarts looking for a great new opportunity.

It’s a problem, says author Ryan Streeter, former deputy policy chief for then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, because cities are creating “policy disincentives” that make it harder for young people to take a chance on a new start.

These include locally administered public benefits, health insurance and licensure requirements that make moving too much of a hassle.

Americans traditionally have been able to follow in the footsteps of the pioneers, relocating to new cities to test their mettle. Unfortunately, those cities are being sustained with the savings of older Americans, not young people seeking new opportunity.

Nine of the 20 fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country are retirement destinations in which deaths outnumber or roughly equal births.”

Working-class Americans who seek opportunities should be rewarded with the ability to relocate to pursue them. But the “barriers of entry,” like relocation costs and high taxes, makes moving to new cities too tough to tackle.

The interplay of supply and demand with increasingly restrictive policies in growing cities tends to raise the barriers of entry to a city over time. It should be no surprise, then, that highly educated people with higher incomes are more likely to move to faster growing cities than people with lower levels of income and education.”

So how does America change this trend to make the perks that residents in the fastest-growing cities enjoy available to low and middle income workers?

Streeter says don’t turn to the federal government to solve this one.

No national policy can fix the fact that too few cities in the country combine economic dynamism with affordability.”

Instead, think local:

(I)t falls to municipal leaders to limit restrictive land-use and housing policies, ensure that good schools are widely distributed, and provide amenities in a safe environment that can be enjoyed by all classes of people.”

Pioneering America’s fastest growing cities is an important component of our country’s future. If local leaders and taxpayers are serious about sustaining the growth and building it with strong, working hands, they need to find ways to limit the barriers of entry and make these places accessible to working families. Just as the expansion of the West led to incredible and unforeseen prosperity, the contributions of today’s pioneers raise the potential to flourish, if cities allow them to do so.