September 2020

Relocating Can Boost Living Standards

COVID-19, by rearranging work arrangements, is allowing people to rethink where they live.

As the virus started to spread in Manhattan last spring, some residents fled the city and began snapping up houses in Westchester County and on Long Island. There is preliminary evidence some people are moving farther afield, to rural areas where small populations create the potential for lower COVID-19 transmission rates.

In a Pew Research Center survey, about one in five Americans said the pandemic had either prompted them or someone they know to relocate.

The map below shows the big changes in living standards that can accompany a move from a high- to a low-cost part of the country. In each location, the Tax Foundation calculated each region’s purchasing power, based on what $100 will buy, on average, nationwide.

For example, $100 will purchase $75 to $80 worth of goods in Manhattan. By moving to Upstate New York or New Mexico, someone who keeps her job and works remotely can increase her purchasing power to around $110 – the equivalent of at least a 37 percent increase.Map of cost-of-living

Typically, an area’s cost-of-living is correlated with local incomes. For example, employers must pay more to attract workers to high-cost areas. But not in North Carolina, which has “higher-than-average incomes without corresponding higher-than-average prices,” the Tax Foundation said.

Offsetting the benefits of relocating to a low-cost area is the employment risk. If a remote job evaporates, it may be difficult to find a suburban or rural employer that pays as much or an employer in a larger city willing to hire someone new to work remotely. Poor wifi connections are a common problem in rural areas.

Moving is a complex decision with an array of considerations, from the health benefits to the difficulty collaborating with coworkers over Zoom. But what seems clear is that working remotely is, for many, becoming the new normal. …Learn More

Man running up the stairs

Economic Opportunity Reduces Disability

Add upward mobility – an individual’s success in surpassing parents’ economic circumstances – to the factors that can keep federal disability payments in check.

A substantial body of academic research has already established that when the economy is growing, unemployed and marginally employed people have better luck on the job market, and their applications for disability insurance start to decline.

But booms and busts aren’t the only influence on disability. A new study finds that economic conditions of a different type – the ability of low-income people to move up the economic ladder – can reduce disability by improving their health. People who earn more money tend to be healthier for a variety of reasons, ranging from access to better medical care to the lower rates of depression and obesity that exist in higher-income populations.

In a recent study, Yale University sociologist Rourke O’Brien used the data from another researcher’s study that mined IRS tax records to find people born in the 1980s to parents whose incomes were at the lower end – the 25th percentile – of the U.S. income distribution. The children were followed into adulthood to see if they earn more or less than their parents did.

It’s very difficult for children in low-income families to improve on their parent’s circumstances, but the odds are better if they grow up in areas with better schools, less inequality, and more two-parent families.

O’Brien’s research found that counties in which young adults earn more, on average, than their parents were less likely to one day report having a disability in U.S. Census surveys and less likely to be receiving disability benefits.

In a more in-depth analysis, the researcher found some evidence that upward mobility also blunts the well-known tendency of rising unemployment to increase disability applications.

Taken together, the findings indicate that whether someone ends up on disability benefits depends, at least in part, on where they grew up. …Learn More