Dancing in the Sky–Addendum

So.. as a quick follow up to the last post–I wanted to tackle aspect/connection that my brain made last night while watching the Cycropia Aerial Dance troupe perform at Orton Park in Madison.


This performance was free.

During the intermission, they did ask for donations–and people freely gave them–but this was one of the cool things that exist because Madison is generally a cool place filled with a variety (I wouldn’t quite say diverse–it’s working on it–but it still has a ways to go..) of interesting unusually social hairless water apes, so that you get random things like the 48th annual Orton Park Festival with this performance.

(Fascinatingly–this park–the first in Madison–was originally the early city’s designated Cemetery… )

The significance of the preceding information–at least for me–was due to having read these posts about the question of “why don’t unemployed Americans move to where there is work?”

The implied position in these posts–especially in the headlines–is that people are being irrational for not just up and moving from places with high unemployment to places with low unemployment.  To emphasize this–it provides this map:

Originally from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/web/laus/mstrtcr1.gif

Originally from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/web/laus/mstrtcr1.gif

Now this map is interesting and helpful in some ways, but also misleading in others.  Most importantly, it fails to take population sizes into account–a crucial fact in that unemployment is related to people–and not just to territory.  Thus–the relatively low unemployment in the Dakotas–which is being driven by the fracking and oil boom there (which actually produces relatively few jobs, but ND & SD have hardly any people to begin with..) –seems a lot more significant than it really would be.

Concretely, one could note that combined populations of  “low unemployment states” in mid America–namely Minnesota, Iowa, North & South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah–are around 23.1 million.  This is only 60% of the population of California alone.

Thus–it is likely that if all of the “extra” unemployed californians were to migrate to these areas–it would easily overwhelm the available jobs there.

A slightly more accurate map (it is modified from the 2012 electoral vote map–so it has the distortion brought on by senatorial electoral votes… ) would look like this:

Modified by me...

Modified by me…









As one can see–the areas of “low unemployment” look significantly smaller and are clearly overwhelmed by the red areas of higher unemployment.

Now–the second post–the one by Matthew Yglesias–is actually pretty good (at least in the text–if not in the headlines…) in that it notes a lot of rational reasons why people might not move.  While it doesn’t deal with the population issue I raise above, it does note that moving can be expensive and that moving to a place without a job lined up in advance is pretty scary (it should really be described as a bit INSANE…).

It does also give some of the, perhaps, “non-rational” factors that might come into play.  These include the fact that the climate in places with low unemployment might suck, the places might be small towns rather than big cities, and that people might not want to leave the places they currently live in because of the built up social networks they have there.

Last night ties into that final point nicely–and it’s one of those kinds of things that wouldn’t show up in any kind of rational economic analysis

It’s part of that nebulous factor called “culture,” that is hard–or perhaps stupid–to quantify.

Obviously, every place has it’s own “culture”–and I’m not a snob about this.  Small town culture is not necessarily worse than big city culture–but they are different–in the kinds and intensity of the cultural options that exist.  More importantly, a lot of human identity is constructed out of the cultural elements that one is familiar with–and that is what makes moving from one cultural area to the next harder than one might “rationally surmise” by just looking at employment opportunities.

In any case–that’s the addendum… and now back to working on my syllabus for the upcoming semester…


About Prof. Woland

I contain multitudes. Come meet us.
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2 Responses to Dancing in the Sky–Addendum

  1. Brent says:

    “people might not want to leave the places they currently live in because of the built up social networks they have there.”

    Yup. Among the things that bugged me with MY’s articles was the obliviousness to networking. Which is more likely to get you a job: being unemployed in a city of a million where you’ve lived for ten years and were employed for the first 9.5 of them, or moving to a city of 50,000 where you know no one, but hey, the unemployment rate is just 4%!

    • Prof. Woland says:

      Yeah–it’s especially galling for me when it’s pretty clear that many of these east coast bloggers got their positions by essentially going to the IVY Leagues, networking the fuck out of themselves there–and then getting these blogging jobs where they can then talk about much of the country–and how rational they should be.

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