Jobless rates vary but moving for work is risky
By Ruth Mantell,
March 8, 2011
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — States’ unemployment rates vary widely and job seekers may be tempted to move to where the employment grass is greener, but it’s important to assess the situation carefully before you start packing your belongings.
The unemployment rate in Nevada hit 14.9% in 2010, more than three times North Dakota’s rate of 3.9%. Does that mean job seekers should race to North Dakota?
These industries are hiring
There are more openings in retail, professional services and health care, according to Taleo’s Shail Khiyara, who talks about where the job market is getting competitive and what makes for a good candidate these days. Stacey Delo reports.
Sometimes there’s no choice — if survival means moving, those workers must take a job regardless — but people with some wiggle room should make an informed decision, experts said.
“It may seem like all of the opportunities are in another state or another region,” said Don Spetner, an executive vice president at recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International. “But you really have to step back and say: ‘Are we in a cyclical mode?’ You might better off sticking it out and taking on debt.”
Also, “it depends on what you do and what the opportunity is,” Spetner said. “If you are a foreclosure expert, you might want to move to Nevada.”
Others agreed. “It depends on what types of industries are in the state that are driving the low unemployment rate,” said Jason Levin, district manager for career site Vault.com. “Unemployment rates are important gauges to look at, but there are underlying reasons” driving those rates, he said.
Among workers laid off in the last 12 months who found new jobs, 23% relocated to a new city or state, according to survey results released in January from jobs site CareerBuilder.com. The economic downturn has been the catalyst for some workers to move, said Jennifer Grasz, a CareerBuilder.com spokeswoman.
“There are a lot of people out of work. The reality for some workers is that they might not be able to find the right opportunities in their own backyard,” Grasz said. “The supply of talent might be outweighing the demand for it.”
Family and finances add complexity to the decision about whether and where to move for a job. Also, outside of work, many are attached to their communities — friends, schools, parks, restaurants, bars, places of worship, and so on. Some families may be reluctant to move because of potential real-estate losses, and some have concerns about the impact of a move on their kids and spouses.
One of the largest impediments to moving can be fear of the unknown, Grasz said. “You don’t really know what to expect until you are living in an area.”
Moving can be expensive and companies are less willing than they used to be to help offset workers’ moving costs. Relocation lump-sum payments are offered by 28% of companies, but some plan to reduce or cut those benefits, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2010 employee benefits survey.
Another significant factor in the decision of whether to move: Living costs in the new area. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, provides an online budget calculator that allows users to compare costs for different areas, including basics such as housing, food and child care.
According to the calculator, it costs a two-parent-two-child family almost 50% more to live in the D.C. area than in Macon, Ga. While EPI’s data are a few years old, comparing results for different areas makes a basic point clear: it costs substantially more to live in some places than others. Use the EPI calculator.
Before moving, workers with a job offer should figure out whether the overall compensation package is worth the move, Grasz said.
“That goes beyond the immediate paycheck,” Grasz said. “It’s looking at whether there are growth opportunities. If you don’t see the opportunity to grow in that organization, then it might not be the right move for you. Is it an organization that will continue to invest in your development, your learning opportunities?”
Workers also need to make sure that they have a comfortable cash cushion. A few years ago, conventional wisdom called for families to have three months of living expenses; now it’s more like six or nine months, Levin said.
“If things were to go the wrong way, ensure that you can survive financially,” Levin said. “We often don’t consider job seeking and financial stability in the same conversation. But you have to have those conversations together. The economy has taught us that you need money on the side because you might be out of work.”
Target key areas, and assess your skills
Workers should identify all of the places they’d be willing to move, keeping the needs of their family in mind, and extend their job search heavily into those areas, said Meredith Haberfeld, a New York-based executive and career coach.
“Tap your network for everyone you know who would be useful, and set up trips specifically to those areas to go network,” Haberfeld said.
“Find industry conferences and events to attend. Find individuals at companies that would be a good fit for you, [arrange] information interviews.”
Workers can reduce costs by staying with friends or family while scouting a new city for a job.
“You need to be in the particular area Monday through Friday so that you are going to industry events, getting those in-person meetings,” Levin said.
Before moving, workers should make sure their skills will be transferrable to a new location, Levin said. “You have to evaluate your own skills set, your experiences, and whether those would mesh well with where you want to go,” Levin said. “Miami is not exactly a hub for investment banking.”
In general, your skills will apply — you just need to be able to communicate how. “Speak to potential employers about how [your skills] are transferable to a new business,” Levin said. “At the end of the day it’s about connecting directly with your employers about what you’ve been doing.”
State unemployment rates
The Labor Department recently reported unemployment rates for each state in 2010.
The five states with the lowest unemployment rates:
• North Dakota, with a rate of 3.9%
• Nebraska, 4.7%
• South Dakota, 4.8%
• Iowa, 6.1%
• New Hampshire, 6.1%
The five states with the highest unemployment rates:
• Nevada, 14.9%
• Michigan, 12.5%
• California, 12.4%
• Rhode Island, 11.6%
• Florida, 11.5%
Ruth Mantell is a MarketWatch reporter based in Washington.