Americans are moving less than ever before, Pew, City Lab, and Tylor Cowen. There seem to be a variety of reasons from culture, to cost of living, to simple inertia. I recently moved from Wisconsin to New Jersey (though I consider this a downgrade, even if the job opportunities are better). I applied for the job online, did my preliminary interviews over the phone. Got a site visit, the job, and moved just shy of one thousand miles to an apartment in an area which I scouted from google maps (with the help of their moat).
Since, I’ll be browbeaten if I don’t, I’d like to take 145 words to describe the resources I, as a white, straight, upper (middle?) class male have access to. I was able to go to college and get a useless degree in cell, molecular, and developmental biology, which I got into due to a multitude of reasons but mainly family wealth and stability and education that can come with that. After graduating, I was able to spend time at home without a job (see the last sentence). I was able to fly out to the Newark area after being offered the job to look for apartments, the travel expenses, lodging, and first months of which could have been covered by the moving stipend but since the eventual costs were higher, personal wealth was used. Which again, please refer to three sentences before. This is all to say, moving costs a lot, in time, money, and social connections.
And that is just the move. Excluding my coworkers and barista, no one, in 100 miles, in any direction knows my name. Except for my girlfriend who I moved out here to be near and a friend at Boston University, I don’t know anyone on this entire coast. But enough pining for the ‘better’ days. How could this be better, and as in most cases, the answer is robust transportation policy.
My whole immediate and extended family lives in Wisconsin, that’s roughly 1000 miles away, around 14 hours driving. That is not a journey I would undertake more than three times a year. Could I fly, sure but it is $200 minimum, the mean price being closer to $260. I can pay for that when I need to, but would moving across the country have been less stressful if I could readily get back? You betcha. What about buses you might ask, ‘hate them’ I might respond, they might combine the worst things about flying with the worst things of traveling by road (also, NYC to Madison takes 23 hours…). What could make up for this lack of fast cheapish travel in the united states? What could take advantage of our cheap land, blue collar labor force, and amazing natural beauty? What about trains!
So, ~1000 miles from NYC to Madison, according to Wikipedia (cringe), high-speed rail is anything above 124mph. Which is twice the speed of most highway travel (60 and 124 mph being the minimum of each set) and even assuming station stops and buffer time at the station for a generation increasingly less likely to own a car it might be time for that infrastructure reinvestment our President keeps talking about.
For context, a train ticket from Madrid to Paris, which I’ll concede is a more heavily trafficked route than NYC to Madison, is very competitive with flying and with a 10-hour transit time way better than a bus or car, a pretty good deal for those trying to get back to family.
Would you being more willing to move knowing you could visit your family more readily? Would you be more likely to invest in moving to larger cities with better opportunities if it was easier and cheaper to get there and more importantly back?
One thought on “The Dissonance of Moving Across the Country”
Interesting question you raised here. It’s known that the average distance people live away from their families increases with socioeconomic status, which, as you pointed out, is in part due to the high costs of moving and transportation. Asking how far would robust and affordable public transit across the country change those dynamics is a great question.
One reference that I always go back to when I ask myself why we don’t have a better train system is this video from Wendover productions (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbEfzuCLoAQ). I think they do a great job of breaking it down.