The Next Great Migration?

Many people believe that refugees & immigrants work harder than native born Americans. There’s anecdotal evidence in the form of stories about immigrant doctors who work two menial labor jobs to support their families and reports that immigrants do the difficult jobs that Americans don’t want.

The theory goes that once you have lost everything in your old life and have a chance to start over (refugees), you throw everything you have into it so your children will have the best chance to succeed in America. Or, once you have gotten the opportunity to live and work in the United States (immigrants, documented or undocumented), you exploit that opportunity to the fullest in order to give your family – home and abroad – the money they need to get ahead. And it works. The children of immigrants learn more at school and make a much better transition to college and adulthood than native born Americans.

Refugees and immigrants have two different motivations. Refugees had a stable life and lost it, then were offered the chance to start over in another country. Immigrants saw the beacon of the United States as the Promised Land – a place full of riches available for those willing to work for them. While the motivations are different, the effect is the same – hard workers willing to do the jobs that we native born Americans don’t want to touch.

History gives us a domestic parallel. The Great Migration describes the movement of more than six million African-Americans from the South to the North and West between 1915 and 1970. In her introduction of author Isabel Wilkerson, Terry gross of NPR’s “Fresh Air” put it this way:

“The decision was to stay in the South’s segregated caste system or make the pilgrimage North or West in the hope of escaping racism and having more access to jobs, housing and other opportunities.”

Ms. Wilkerson wrote about the Great Migration in The Warmth of Other Suns.

A class of people who had been promised certain rights but been denied again and again was tempted to pick up and move in order to improve their lives. More than six million did so, and it changed everything. As Ms. Wilkerson puts it, “The suburbanization and the ghettos that were created as a result of the limits of where [African-Americans] could live in the North [still exist today.] And … the South was forced to change, in part because they were losing such a large part of their workforce through the Great Migration.”

The next domestic migration may begin soon and it will be prompted by Republican policies to grant more power to the states and limit federal oversight of many programs. This is hardly a secret. President Trump, his advisors and his cabinet all express this desire as do the vast majority of Republicans in Congress. They want to put the states in charge of deciding what to teach students, how many people to insure through Medicaid, how to implement environment policies, how to allow businesses to operate (wages, worker safety, waste disposal, etc.). And the Republicans want the states to decide how to treat women.

In many conservative states, there seems to be a bias against women who do not conform to widely held beliefs of appropriate behavior. If Roe v. Wade is overturned by an increasingly conservative Supreme Court – once thought impossible, but now probable in the next 5-10 years – most of those states would outlaw abortion. Even though they would force a single mother to have a child she is unable to support on her own, those states would also likely increase the burden of being a single mother by cutting or limiting assistance to social support programs.

And then there is the animosity directed toward women in some of these states. A physically abused woman seeking a restraining order to protect herself is arrested in the courthouse in El Paso, Texas and deported. There are only 18 domestic violence shelters in the 46 counties of South Carolina, the state with the highest murder rate of women by men. The map below shows the per capita murder rate of women for 2013. A darker color represents a higher murder rate (no data available for Florida and Washington, D.C.). Many conservative states seem to have a high murder rate of women, and most of these murders are at the hands of the woman’s husband or partner.

Finally, let’s not forget that prior to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Viagra was covered under most health insurance plans, but birth control was not. The Republican replacement plan is likely to strip out the ACA’s ten essential benefits requirement which mandates that insurance plans cover, among other things, birth control, pregnancy, maternity and newborn care. More women-centered services will be lost with the Republicans’ repeal and replacement than men’s services.

Remember that this is a states’ rights push. Some states will strip these coverages, and others will keep them as a requirement. Some will have a rigorous curriculum for their students and others will ‘dumb down’ graduation requirements to push students through the system. Some states will have strong support for special needs students and others will do as Texas does now – limit the number of special needs students allowed to receive benefits by picking an arbitrary maximum percentage regardless of need.

And some states will adopt a ‘good old boy’ attitude toward domestic violence and discrimination and other states will have strong protections for women in the workplace and in the home.

So will women make up the next Great Migration? If the states in which they live become hostile, the answer could certainly be yes. We very well could find a movement from the South and rural West to the more populated centers in the country which generally provide better support for women’s issues. Some may move from rural areas to cities within the same state because they may find more support there, but if the state takes legislative action to restrict local governmental control, that may not be far enough. (Not exactly a ‘women’s issue,’ but when Flagstaff was considering a ban on plastic bags, the Arizona state government passed a law stripping such control from local government.)

Remember that just as with refugees, women will have lost rights and privileges they once had, and just like immigrants, women will see the Promised Land – in this case it’s the places in the country which offer better support for their needs. That is what drives people to move, and once it begins in tentative steps, it will likely grow quickly.

Companies will have a dilemma on their hands. While conservative states are more likely to allow companies to pay low wages, pollute the air and water, have unsafe work conditions, and other ‘business friendly’ situations, the potential migration of the women (and the men who will follow them because that’s where the women are), plus a potentially inadequate education system may make expanding operations in these states a poor business decision. This is especially true in a growing economy with fewer desperate job applicants.

Businesses are perhaps better off expanding where the workers are going to be, and that is likely where the local economies have been doing well since 2012 or so – midsize and large cities along the west and east coasts of the country. There are pockets of strength in many cities throughout the country, but few in rural areas which are so dependent on government assistance. Under Republican plans, those rural areas are likely to suffer more, especially if many of the women migrate to places in which they feel better supported and protected.

About tonyj126

I'm a 50+ married man who always seems to have a large backlog of work to do, but also a lot of flexibility in my schedule. Much of the work I do is volunteer or taking care of extended family members. I suffer from, as my priest calls it, "the sin of self-sufficiency," which means I can figure out how to do most things myself, and consequently, reduce the need for community to solve problems. As a logical extention (at least to me), I find myself called to comtemplate the country's and the world's woes and offer my observations. I hope someone out there will find them useful.
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