displacement

Population Turnover

A brilliant Black writer recently left the Austin, Texas area and headed to Atlanta, where she would have a position more fitting to her capabilities. I had not had a real opportunity to get to know her, but I was blessed with at least the chance to meet her. She had been living in Austin for over a decade, had showcased her talents and made her skills known, but still found her professional life wanting. Other than her inner circle, no one knew when she was leaving until she was driving away to Atlanta. While she will undoubtedly make her mark in her new location, I wish that Austin, Texas had given her a real chance to make her mark here, and utilized her brilliance in a way that avoided her investing in a new future elsewhere.

Many people like to encourage people to move to new cities and new countries “for a change,” and claim that staying in one location is an antiquated lifestyle. I completely disagree, and would challenge people to consider this aspect of constantly moving around: it is colonialism revisited. Instead of building the social ecosystem in one location and ensuring the wellbeing and safety of all included, society tells people that they should move around constantly until they find a space that fits them. This command tells individuals two things. First, they are not allowed to maintain autonomy over their own location, and they must follow trends regardless of consequence. Secondly, by telling people to move to places that offer stability, society is telling people that they should live under anonymous control and avoid any awareness of their situation.

Some will argue that many high-wage jobs are excellent professional options and that workers should move to jobs that will pay the most. I would counter that with the current migrant crisis: all of those workers were coming not only out of personal necessity, but because large companies requested their presence, and almost none of them will be paid well for their troubles. Almost no one is moving across the country for what could be considered a middle-income position. People are only moving either because there are no opportunities in one location that pay a living wage, or because they have a substantial salary increase. Because of that, moving around is tremendously expensive, and it comes at the cost of the workers, not the companies demanding them.

Constant moving also removes accountability for a local economy. Sure, there are rural communities that lack the resources for everyone there to have reasonable, steady income. That is not the case for most of the larger cities, which are dealing with rampant socioeconomic disparity, much of which is racial. To tell people, especially people of color, to move to where opportunity presents itself means that the movers will pay an extremely high relocation cost, because most of the places with jobs are expensive. The punchline? Sometimes the jobs either pay less, fail to match the description, or only last a short amount of time. Then, movers have traversed the country, often at great financial liability, and the opportunity disappeared, leaving them stuck.

Another aspect of being manipulated into moving is that moving quickly requires that someone relinquish many belongings, reducing the cost of the move. Because so many people are not consuming or are divesting themselves of material possessions, they are being accused of not sustaining local economies and putting people out of work. When asking for higher pay in exchange for stability, those same people are accused of being financially irresponsible and spending more dispensable income than they might actually have. Thus, many who are forced to move for work feel pressure to conform to the dominant narrative despite the lack of financial resources and location constancy.

The most devastating aspect of being in constant motion is the inability to maintain local relationships. In idealized television shows, residents are often seen greeting their neighbors and being active in their communities. While moving may be necessary, the movers can undergo an intense psychological toll when going to place without substantial friends or family. Even though people contain individual personalities, social cohesion eases the transition process and reduces the feelings of isolation and despair. Constantly moving means having to rebuild one’s existence in multiple locations from scratch, which can lead to more mental health conditions.

Also, staying in one location means that people are capable of establishing political capital that can put pressure on local governments to invest in certain communities. One of the reasons why citizens from several wealthier, more established, and predominantly White neighborhoods are upset is because they are finally experiencing what working-class residents have been contesting for decades. Finally, the big construction companies and realtors have run out of “cheap, empty” land to buy and are looking towards taking down older buildings in favor of newer, sleeker models. Local governments are at last being forced to contend with how single-family housing affects the social infrastructure of a city. Instead of demanding that cities kowtow to wealthier White neighborhoods, those neighborhoods and their organizers are being called out for their lack of self awareness at the costs of preserving their neighborhoods.

Still, many of those who move around are in political limbo. Homeowners are still regarded as the gold standard of citizenry, so even the renters in the plush new luxury condos are seen as less than those who own a home. In working class communities, even if there are active community organizers, those neighborhoods have less value in the eyes of most local governments due to their lower property values. Yes, one must own a home, but apparently only the “right” kind of home in the “right” neighborhood. Schools can be shut down and infrastructure can degrade, regardless of how many meetings those citizens attend. With this condition, the biggest problem with wage stagnation is that fewer people will be able to buy and hold property that elevates them to the status of socially relevant in the eyes of local governments.

Most importantly, the professional reputations of people who move a lot are relentlessly scrutinized. Instead of considering that someone moved for a better job or for family health, employers will view that worker as “unstable” and refuse to bestow the balance that worker may seek. It will be important in the future for everyone to socially recalibrate themselves to either allowing people to stay where they are, or accepting individual mobility as a consequence of the times.

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