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Go west, young worker! (Or maybe south) Examining 40 years of internal U.S. labor migration


In 1876, as folks were heading west to “grow with the country,” the Transcontinental Express made a record 83-hour train trip from New York City to San Francisco. FRED’s data don’t typically go back that far, but the graph here does show how the U.S. labor force has moved around the country since 1976.

Clearly, there have been many types of positive and negative migration over the country’s history. The graph sheds light on one specific measure: the share of the U.S. labor force residing in each of the four Census regions. Note that these are proportions, so a decrease in a share may still mean an increase in that region’s labor force, as the nation’s population has increased over time. The graph shows that two regions have consistently increased their shares at the expense of the shares of the other two regions. Apparently, folks are still heading west, but also south. The West has had the largest percentage increase over the past 40 years, and the South’s increase is nearly as large: from 18.3% to 23.9% and from 31.6% to 36.9%, respectively. The shares of the labor force in the Northeast and the Midwest have decreased: from 22.9% to 17.6% and from 27.2% to 21.6%, respectively. As this centuries-long migration continues, FRED will continue to provide the historical data for you.

How this graph was created: After searching for “labor force,” look to the the left sidebar to select geography type “Census region.” Check the four series (either seasonally adjusted or not), and click on “Add to Graph.” From the “Edit Graph” menu’s “Format” tab, choose graph type “Area,” stacking “Percent,” and recession shading “Off.”

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CMWRLFN, CNERLFN, CSOULFN, CWSTLFN


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