Americans have a long tradition of moving towards opportunity. Does anyone remember, "Go West, young man"? What about the thousands upon thousands of people who left Appalachia to work in the steel mills and manufacturing plants of the Midwest after World War II? What about all of the African Americans who moved from the deep south to seek employment in Chicago, Detroit and other northern cities?
I documented some of this movement in another post a couple of years ago, "Less Cheese, More Moves".
At the peak, more than 30 percent of southern-born blacks moved north, from 1920 through the 1960s. Even when technological limitations made long-distance travel extremely onerous, in the late 19 century, we were willing to travel in search of opportunity. In the second half of the 1800s, more than two-thirds of US men over 30 had moved away from their hometowns, and more than a third of those moves were for more than 100 miles.
Despite the fact that our transportation systems and technological advances make it easier for all of us to be more mobile, mobility within the United States continues to decline.
The percentage of those who change residence within the same locality each year is half what it was in 1950.
The same is true for those moving within the same county or same state.
People moving from one state to another has dropped 51% from the post-war years.
We have also come a long way from the 1930's when 2.5 million people in the central United States left their homes in a desperate migration in search of work and better living conditions. They moved from an area that became known as The Dust Bowl which suffered severe dust conditions during a drought that lasted a decade.
During that period, 440,000 people from Oklahoma migrated elsewhere. 250,000 of that number alone ended up in California inspiring the storyline in John Steinbeck's book, The Grapes of Wrath.
Oklahoma's entire population was only 2.4 million in 1930. That means almost 1 in 5 left the state in the 1930's. 1 in 10 ended up in California.
Can you imagine a similar migration today? Of course not. It is unimaginable.
The drought would be blamed on climate change and a massive government program would be enacted to bail everyone out. Billions and billions and billions of dollars later, no one would see the need to move for other opportunity.
You can probably cite the aging population as the biggest reason that people are not changing residences within the same locality as much as they did in the past.
However, the massive government safety net that has been developed since the 1960's has to be responsible for so many more people not moving from state to state.
The social safety net has become so large and all encompassing that it no longer provides protection--it has reached the point that it has trapped and ensnared millions of people. People don't move because they don't need to move. Their situation may be less than ideal but they have subsidized housing, they have food stamps, they have Medicaid. Millions gets a government check each month. There is no need to move.
People used to move because they needed to put money in their pockets and a roof over their heads. They were willing to take a risk to better a bad situation. There are few situations anymore where Americans feel the pain of a bad situation like people used to. We have taken care of that by removing much of the discomfort. However, we have also destroyed people's incentive to do something about bettering their lives in the process.
Our intentions are good but in the process we are destroying the spark within their human spirit that motivates people to seek opportunity and remove the chains that keep them locked to their current circumstances.
You see this in this map of opioid deaths in the United States. In 2013, there were about 25,000 deaths from opioids in the U.S. By 2016 that number had grown to 60,000. In 2018 it is estimated that deaths from opioid overdoses will have grown to 72,000 when the final numbers are in.
Let's put that number in context. 58,220 died in the Vietnam War in a conflict that lasted over a decade.
There were 39,773 deaths by guns in 2017---two-thirds due to suicide.
Previous generations in these areas moved for opportunity. The current generation, supported by government programs, stays put with the support of those subsidies. That support even includes Medicaid which is often the payment source for the opioids they use in an attempt to take away the pain that accompanies hopelessness.
"Go West, young man" has been replaced with "Stay where you are, young man."
Rather than the social safety net providing a temporary cushion against economic woes it has ensnared millions upon millions of people in a permanent trap of hopelessness.
The road to hell is surely paved with good intentions.