Dec 31, 2019

The new relocation test: Jobs for spouses

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The rise of dual-career couples has contributed to lower mobility rates between cities and has made it harder to recruit workers to smaller job markets.

Why it matters: Moving to a different town for a job opportunity was more common when most households had one primary earner. Now that the majority of households rely on two incomes, relocating requires finding two good jobs instead of one — a much harder proposition for many couples.

More than 60% of all U.S. households have two working parents, according to Pew Research Center. White-collar workers are more likely to be part of households where both partners work full time.

Where it stands: Fifty years ago, the main requirement for relocating was a stable job for the family breadwinner.

  • "Now, when you have two-professional couples, you don’t want to go to a place where one has a great opportunity and one doesn’t," said Rob Atkinson, president and CEO of the Information Technology Innovation Council.
  • "You want to go to a labor market where it’s rich with opportunities, and with plenty of back-up plans for both in case the job you went there for doesn't work out."

Between the lines: This is one reason for the growing concentration of high-paying industries and jobs in just a handful of booming cities. Dual-career couples tend to cluster where they both have job security — not just in their current jobs but with options to jump elsewhere in the same market.

Zooming in: Smaller markets with fewer options are finding it hard to lure candidates. "When you try to recruit people from outside the area, you have to have employment for spouses," said Barry Tippin, city manager for Redding, California.

  • "You’re almost always recruiting both," he said. "If a spouse is a teacher or a nurse, there are almost always opportunities. But if a spouse is in corporate finance, we don't have a lot of that up here."

Professionals aren't as willing to make a jump from, say, Silicon Valley to Indianapolis even for a high-caliber job if there isn't a near guarantee that their partner can find employment. Some companies have tried to find ways to hire both in order to get the top talent.

  • "It's making people make choices. They may not be able to take a stretch assignment or they may not be willing to go on a mobility assignment because you can't move both careers at the same time. So companies are losing out on 50% of the best talent in many cases," according to Frances Brooks Taplett, partner at Boston Consulting Group.

Go deeper: Americans are moving less

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