Academic journal article Journal of Regional Analysis & Policy

Does Commuting Lead to Migration?

Academic journal article Journal of Regional Analysis & Policy

Does Commuting Lead to Migration?

Article excerpt

Abstract. This paper investigates the interaction between commuting and migration within a local labor market, focusing especially on the question of whether commuting can lead to migration over time. Using Virginia data from 2000 to 2006, the study shows that the commuting flow between two locations has a positive and significant effect on the migration flow in the same direction in subsequent years. The underlying reasons are that increased commuting costs or reduced migration costs can induce commuters to become migrants. These results may have useful implications for urban communities in their revitalization efforts, as cities can explore ways of attracting daily commuters to their cities to become permanent residents, reversing the trends of declining urban population.

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1. Introduction

Migration and commuting are fundamental issues in the study of the American labor market. The history of the past few decades shows that Americans are becoming more mobile, in terms of both longer commutes and more frequent migrations and relocations. In the past four decades, the percentage of American workers crossing county lines to work more than doubled, from 10% in 1960 to 27% in 2000. Locally in Virginia, the percentage of workers employed in their home county shrank from 52% in 1990 to 48% in 2000 (Shuai, 2010). During this process suburban counties experienced an influx of residents and development, while urban centers suffered a steady population decline. Many urban plights of today, such as high crime, high poverty, and poorly performing schools, are directly related to declining urban populations and the subsequent loss of tax bases. To reverse the trend of population loss and combat urban problems, many cities have undertaken ambitious urban revitalization programs, including building downtown malls and sports arenas or staging festivals. While these efforts focused on hospitality sectors have brought in temporary visitors to city centers, they have been less effective in attracting permanent residents (Turner and Rosentraub, 2002). How can cities around the country encourage more people to live in their downtowns?

To reverse downtown population decline, people need to be attracted to move to cities. Thus, the key question becomes where those potential migrants come from. When migration is discussed in public discourse, foreign migration normally gathers the most attention, as it is related to current political debates such as illegal immigration. However, foreign immigrants only account for a very small percentage of all migrants in the U.S. As Table 1 shows, from 2000 to 2006 only 4.0% of all migrants to Virginia counties were foreign1 (IRS, 2006). The vast majority of migration occurred within the state border. Of all in-migrants to Virginia counties, 57% of them were from within Virginia, and 39% of them were from other states. Out-migration follows a similar pattern, with 60% of out-migrants moving to other counties in Virginia, and 38% moving to other states. Only 3% of migrants moved to other countries. An overwhelming number of migrations occur within the state of Virginia (IRS, 2006).

The above data imply that cities need to look close to home for potential migrants, and strategies have been proposed for cities to attract early retirees (Cromartie and Nelson, 2009) and young and educated adults (Edmiston, 2009). This paper hypothesizes that one potential target is the large number of daily commuters to cities. Despite declining population, American cities remain employment centers, attracting a large number of commuters. For example, in Richmond, Virginia, 67% of its jobs were taken by commuters from surrounding counties in 2000, much higher than the state average of 50% (Census, 2000). Many of those commuters are highly- skilled educated people that cities need.

Theoretically, it is possible that commuting can lead to migration, as implied by a number of search models (Rouwendal, 2004). …

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