Dust storm on the panhandle, courtesy of Library of Congress
Given the enormous gap in unemployment between skilled and unskilled workers, it isn’t surprising that skills best explain today’s metropolitan unemployment rates. The share of adults with college degrees in 2000 can, on its own, explain about one-half of the variation in the unemployment rate.
As Florida put it, cities that grew up in the 30s — cities that lack knowledge-economy networks — will suffer disproportionately.
During the recessions, thousands fled the Dust Bowl. In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a massive exodus from the Rust Belt. Today’s recession will also prompt mobility, probably toward more skilled, more centralized cities with less historical commitment to manufacturing. Government policies that try to bolster declining regions would artificially reduce that productivity-enhancing mobility. It would be far wiser to focus on aid that helps poor people rather than to throw money at poor places.