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Move to where the jobs are

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., Special to CNN
  • Many people stay put in economic downturn, wedded to their communities
  • Ruben Navarrette Jr. says young people should move to where the jobs are
  • He says more Americans are taking jobs overseas due to recession
  • Navarrette: Some states have much better job outlooks than others

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board, a nationally syndicated columnist and a regular contributor to Read his column here

San Diego, California (CNN) -- In the early 1990's, I was listening to the Rush Limbaugh radio show when a young man from Youngstown, Ohio, called in to complain about... well, life.

The caller was upset that, since the steel mills had closed years earlier, there was no opportunity for him in his beloved hometown. Youngstown was where his father and grandfather had raised families and where he had hoped to raise his own.

So he was attracted to the protectionist rhetoric of presidential candidates promising to erect trade barriers in the hopes of resurrecting U.S. cities. But, short of attending a political rally, the young man from Youngstown didn't know what to do.

Noting that our most daunting obstacles are often self-imposed, Limbaugh gave the caller some simple but valuable advice: "Move!"

Brilliant. But moving isn't always easy. At various moments, some of us have felt inextricably bound to our hometowns by a loyalty that defies logic. That can be charming. Yet, especially in a sour economy, it can also be self-defeating.

Now I read about a new trend: More and more Americans are responding to the wobbly U.S. economy by fleeing the country. It seems that when the U.S. job market gets tough, the desperate get going -- to wherever the jobs happen to be.

According to a recent article in USA Today, with the nation's unemployment rate at a 26-year-high of 10.2 percent, many Americans are looking for jobs outside the country. In fact, U.S.-based staffing companies and executive search firms say that the job outlook abroad looks brighter than it does here.

The most welcoming job markets: India, China, Dubai, Brazil, and Singapore. The jobs that are most often taking people abroad: engineering, management or consulting. As the article points out, a survey by Korn/Ferry found that 54 percent of executives said they'd be either likely or highly likely to accept a post in a foreign country. Four years ago, in better times, it was just 37 percent. At MIT's Sloan School of Management, 24 percent of 2009 graduates found jobs overseas, a jump from 19 percent last year.

Sure, leaving the United States is an extreme measure. I'd be happy if most Americans were more willing to just leave their comfort zone. If you're unemployed, the secret to survival is to know where to go -- and where to steer clear of.

According to one set of job growth projections, in 2010 the three most promising states will be Idaho, Colorado and Texas -- with Wyoming, Washington, and New Mexico not far behind. The three least promising will be Nevada, Florida, and West Virginia -- with California, Illinois, and New York not much better off.

For me, this subject hits close to home. No pun intended. You see, I was once just like the guy from Youngstown. I was in love with a hometown (Sanger, a small town in central California) that couldn't sustain my ambition. After graduating from college on the East Coast, I rushed home.

Eventually, reality set in and I spent my 20s bouncing back and forth to Los Angeles, a much larger market, for one job or another. Finally, when I turned 30, I said goodbye to California and took my first reporting job at a newspaper in Arizona. Then I kept moving. I moved four times in my 30s -- from Sanger to Phoenix to Boston to Dallas to San Diego.

The lesson I learned along the way: Jobs don't just come to you. More often, you have to go to the job. Too many Americans resist that truth and instead wait for their dream jobs to come knocking at their door. They treat the idea of living in a certain city or state as an entitlement that they're not willing to surrender.

"Too many Americans...wait for their dream jobs to come knocking at their door."
--Ruben Navarrette Jr.
  • Jobs and Labor
  • Job Growth
  • Idaho

A few months ago, I found myself having lunch next to a middle-aged man who told me that, when he was starting his business, he had moved all around the country until he arrived at what he considered the destination city of La Jolla, California -- north of San Diego.

He was frustrated because his son, who had grown up in that ritzy ZIP code, was now in his early 20s and considered it his birthright to keep living there. Shaking his head, the man said: "He doesn't understand that I had to work my whole life to get here, and that he has to move to a more affordable city and work his way back."

Multiply that story by 10 million, and you get a sense for what we're up against. Here again, the native-born could learn from immigrants, foreign students, and anyone else who has the moxie to leave behind family, friends, and the familiar in search of a better life. Those people may struggle, but they'll survive and get ahead. It has always been this way. And in a global economy, this is how it will remain for as far as the eye can see.

The sooner Americans accept that, the better off they'll be. The better off we'll all be.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.