Labor or worker mobility is the geographical and occupational movement of workers. Worker mobility is best gauged by the lack of impediments to such mobility. Impediments to mobility are easily divided into two distinct classes with one being personal and the other being systemic. Personal impediments include physical location, and physical and mental ability. The systemic impediments include educational opportunities as well as various laws and political contrivances and even barriers and hurdles arising from historical happenstance.
International labor mobility
International labor mobility is the movement of workers between countries. It is an example of an international factor movement. The movement of laborers is based on a difference in resources between countries. According to economists, over time the migration of labor should have an equalizing effect on wages, with workers in the same industries garnering the same wage.
Impediments to worker mobility
In the United States:
The free market theory of perfect mobility of labor has been contradicted by economic history. For a number of reasons, labor is relatively immobile and does not readily move from employer to employer, from occupation to occupation, or from area to area, even where the differences in hourly wage rates are considerable.
In the first place, it is usually costly and inconvenient for workers to move from one locality to another, and they may lose working time in making any change of jobs. Therefore, an employer in a locality may enjoy what has been called a “spatial monopoly.” This would be especially the case in an isolated company town. The recent trend toward decentralization in such industries as hosiery, rubber, autos, and auto accessories tends, of course, to increase the spatial monopoly of such employers in the purchase of labor.
Secondly, especially before the internet, workers were frequently ignorant of their opportunities in other markets, and a job is such a complex of factors that it may be difficult for the worker to determine whether he would really be better off if he were working for another firm in another area. He has to consider noneconomic as well as economic factors and to consider the long-run as well as the immediate prospect.
Thirdly, there are many restrictions on shopping around in other labor markets. The worker sells his services, which require his presence on one buyer's premises during working hours when the process of hiring normally occurs. Therefore, a worker may be unable to look elsewhere for work without quitting his present job. Furthermore, he is usually unable to acquaint other buyers with the real quality of his wares (services), for the present buyer is the only one who knows the present quality of the worker's services, and the present buyer only knows what their quality is under his particular working conditions. Any other buyer may not be able to judge accurately the value of such services until he has begun to purchase them.
Fourthly, unemployment may be an obstacle to mobility. If there is any unemployment in another market, a worker will hesitate to move to that other market to seek work as an “outsider,” even though real wages there may be higher. As Joan Robinson has pointed out, it is probable “that workers are influenced almost entirely by the chance of finding a job, and that relative real wages exercise only a slight pull upon movements of labor.”
Fifthly, the worker knows that by moving from one employer to another he will lose any seniority rights or privileges as well as any good will or other elements of value connected with his present job that he cannot transfer to a new job. As a new employee in another firm he may be the first one to be laid off. Especially would a worker not change employers if he had acquired considerable skill and knowledge that is peculiar to and valuable to the firm for which he works, such knowledge of company policy and procedures, but which would be of little or no value to other employers. This might be true of supervisors, management, some white-collar employees, and some highly skilled workers.
Sixthy, recent practices and attitutdes of employers reduce the mobility of labor. Where employers have the practice of hiring workers early in their working lives with the notion that they will remain for the rest of their working days, the mobility of labor is reduced. The practice in industry of having a hiring deadline under 40 or 50 years of age had the same effect of preventing older workers from changing their employers. Pension programs, group insurance, and other employer devices for attaching employees to one particular firm likewise contribute to reducing labor mobility and turnover. Mobility and labor turnover also tend to be reduced by any feeling on the part of employers that a worker who has changed employers frequently is likely to be an undesirable employee, by money debts that the employee owes to his employer, by employment contracts entered into by workers for an entire season, by the practice of not paying workers in full upon demand or by other means of control of the worker by the employer.
Historically in the past, the free market failed to supply enough jobs that could support a bare minimum of subsistence making labor mobility no solution to inadequate wages.
Surveys in Britain in the 1870s found eleven to twelve-year old boys from the upper-class public schools were on average five inches taller than boys from industrial schools, and at all teen-ages three inches taller than the sons of artisans. When the British people was for the first time medically examined en masse for military service in 1917, it included 10 per cent of young men totally unfit for service, 41.5 per cent (in London 48 - 49 per cent) with 'marked disabilities', 22 per cent with 'partial disabilities' and only a little more than a third in satisfactory shape.
In the United States a report of the Senate Subcommittee on Wartime Health on January 2, 1945, stated that 40 percent of America's young men were unfit for military service and that about one-third of all selective service rejections were caused directly or indirectly by nutritional deficiencies.
- Inadequate social safety nets. The average job hunt can take anywhere from 4 to 8 months in the US; most experts agree that workers who wish to quit should financially prepare with at least 6 months worth of living expenses. However, 69% of Americans have less than $1000 in savings, which is less than 1 month worth of living expenses in the US. The risk of running out of savings before a replacement job is found is a major disincentive to switching jobs.
- "Right-to-work" laws which reduce worker bargaining power, resulting in lower wages and less worker benefits, which compound the problem above.
- Inadequate infrastructure and housing to accommodate fast-moving changes in labor demand
- Binding ties to a geographic location. e.g., a worker's inability to sell his home for a price that covers his existing mortgage
- A worker's lack of education or access to education
In the Asia-Pacific:
- National and regional differences in the qualifications necessary for different jobs
- A lack of standards for skills and vocations
- Discrimination based on citizenship or national origin
- Discrimination based on social class
- Systems of economics that impede workers.
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