The United States is made up of almost 20,000 incorporated cities, towns, and villages, each with its own particular bundle of culture, geography, and specializations. However, Americans are moving less (record low of 9.3% in 2019) and labor market fluidity is in decline. A direct effort to help people access the array of opportunities that best fits them could be substantially impactful, both for enhancing individual well-being and spurring economic growth
 

Should EA consider funding projects that develop research/tools to facilitate internal migration?

 

Background

Good news: EAs already care about location/migration! Examples:

  • Immigration is a priority for several EA organizations. A widely held opinion amongst economists is that more legal immigration to countries like the United States is imperative for economic growth and well-being.
  • EAs place value on community building, especially in under-exposed locales. There's also EA Hotel and EA Houses.
  • EAs care about optimizing for productivity, personal development and work-life balance, all of which are somewhat tied to physical location.
  • Location is a major factor in much of EA-funded giving.

All of these priorities lend support to the idea that location matters a great deal for EAs as well as the general population. This makes sense - a person’s location can determine access to job opportunities, healthcare, education, civil liberties and more.

 

Situation

Given the importance of location, one would guess that there would be services to help/encourage people to migrate to places that best fit their particular needs. However, there’s a distinct lack of tools to make informed decisions, perhaps because there’s limited opportunity to monetize one-off events like moving or because impacting migration feels intractable.

People generally prefer to choose where to live based on variables like family, healthcare, education, and job opportunities. How do they make this decision? Most speak to friends/family, engage in shallow Google searches, or let employers dictate a landing spot. Choice paralysis, combined with the practical barriers to relocation (finding a new job, switching healthcare insurance, securing a new house or rental, selling immovable assets, transporting belongings, leaving friends/family, and finding new schools), often dissuade people from moving altogether. 

 

Potential Solutions

Opportunities to facilitate relocation include:

  • A platform that collates and displays data about localities from around the country (and world) in an easily digestible, comparable manner. High-level and granular data that could be provided may include wi-fi quality, acceptance of minority groups, frequency of crime, voting history and tax rate.
    • A service for local lodging (homeowners and renters) and a service for local employer-employee matching.
  • Advocacy for and facilitation of best-fit relocation for potential remote workers.
  • Consultations on best places to move a la 80,000 Hours’ 1-1 Advice service.
  • A service that provides relocation financial assistance (and/or other types of assistance) to people who do not have the means to do so.
  • An organization or initiative that conducts research on and advocacy for innovations in migration, land use, charter cities, and remote work.

No organization, EA or otherwise, adequately provides these services (as far as we know - please comment if you know of orgs with this kind of focus). Nomad List is notable, with an incredible amount of consumable data and a small, lively community, but it only targets transient remote workers, it charges a decent-sized fee, and doesn’t explicitly advocate for relocation. Their Rebase project is very cool.
 

Next Steps

We’re planning to further explore these ideas. Perhaps this is as simple as an EA org hiring an FTE to work through these ideas or collating comments on this post. We’re also considering offering free relocation consulting conversations to help fellow EAs decide where to live, and use these discussions to develop an “effective guide on how to choose where to live.” Factors to prioritize could include:

  • Personal best fit (duh)
  • Job and educational opportunities
  • Coordination with other EAs working on shared cause areas and projects
  • Opportunities for movement-building in non-saturated EA hubs
  • Monetary rewards for relocation
  • Influence in politics (foot voting, running for office or supporting campaigns)

In the longer term, there could be a collaboration with a platform like Nomadlist or the development of a new platform that gives people access to the information they need to make an informed decision on where to live. The resulting organization could champion migration in a much needed way, producing innovation, research and advocacy.

 

Caveats

  • Internet communities, remote work and VR may render location less important.
  • Internal migration may be too inelastic/intractable to impact. Counterintuitively, immigration reform may be more feasible.
  • We haven’t done any real calculations on just how much value this adds. Oops!


Looking for Input

Do you think relocation could use more attention? Would you use any of the aforementioned resources? Know of orgs already doing this? We’d love to hear about the community’s ideas on effective, evidence-based relocation. We’re hoping for feedback and suggestions!

I'm not sure how to tag co-authors but thanks to Peter S. Park for collaborating with me on this! Coincidentally, I (samuel) am leaving my current job at the end of the month and will likely dedicate significant time to researching this topic.

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A platform that collates and displays data about localities from around the country (and world) in an easily digestible, comparable manner. High-level and granular data that could be provided may include wi-fi quality, acceptance of minority groups, frequency of crime, voting history and tax rate.

https://teleport.org provides a lot of this information. AFAIK it's funded by a company that sells relocation assistance to tech companies wanting to recruit internationally.

Thanks for sharing, Chris! I've been meaning to reach out to Teleport for a while to learn about their offerings. They've put together some decent data but the UI lacks something integral. I do like their intake survey as a way to narrow choices (a la @evelynciara's comment). The entire platform feels... abandoned? Could be a good partner down the line for the data side.

I've had an idea like this before! In my concept, the user would select the criteria that they value, and the app would only show them the places that are Pareto optimal with respect to those criteria.

Fantastic! Yeah, the basic idea  isn't novel - I've heard it a dozen times over the years. However, as far as I can tell, no one has delivered on it, probably because it's not particularly monetizable. Ultimately I think this kind of product is best suited to be a loss leader or public good.

I love this! I’m especially interested in making relocation easier for international folks - I’d love to learn more about how you’re thinking about this!

Nick - absolutely! Making relocation more effective is imperative whether it be international or domestic. I believe that domestic migration is wildly underserved but the work done on that topic can and should be expanded to help facilitate immigration.

Thanks so much for your kind words on our post, Nick! I really appreciate it.

One of the non-governmental barriers to relocation for international folks is the general non-accessibility of relevant information. Even something as basic as finding an apartment to rent in a foreign city could present a quite high barrier (and certainly a perceived barrier) to relocation.

I've been thinking about relocation recently too, though mostly through the lens of finding a better wintering location in the US. This post inspired me to at least upload (if not exactly document) my analysis to date. See here:

https://github.com/danwahl/schelling-out/blob/main/schelling-out.ipynb

And the current top 10:

                                         biking   housing     vegan    winter  summer     total
City             State                                                                         
Berkeley         California            2.142016 -2.166879  2.770248  3.772590     0.0  1.303595
Gainesville      Florida               1.117079  0.854543  0.780399  3.384664    -0.0  1.227337
Tempe            Arizona               1.329176 -0.184675  1.161235  3.508773    -0.0  1.162902
Portland         Oregon                1.999723 -0.720326  2.868659  1.473931     0.0  1.124397
New Orleans      Louisiana             0.739080  0.053609  1.451345  3.197368    -0.0  1.088280
Hollywood        Florida              -0.717470 -0.222100  2.601399  3.434937    -0.0  1.019353
Boulder          Colorado              2.702441 -1.017822  0.899562  2.222392    -0.0  0.961315
Cambridge        Massachusetts         2.433792 -1.559463  1.255650  2.648835    -0.0  0.955763
Orlando          Florida              -1.171810  0.527952  1.594634  3.601198    -0.0  0.910395
St. Petersburg   Florida              -0.573223  0.002294  1.410371  3.478732    -0.0  0.863635

(Scores are log2 where 0 is Chicago, and total is the average of each row.)

Of the factors mentioned above, this focuses almost entirely on (my) "Personal fit" via considering things like weather, bike-ability, vegan-friendliness, etc. But I'm also keen to explore the "Coordination with other EAs working on shared cause areas and projects" and "Opportunities for movement-building in non-saturated EA hubs" points via new community Schelling points (hence the name).