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Do people follow jobs?

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Articles - November 2011
Wednesday, October 19, 2011

By Brandon Sawyer


Population and employment have always had a symbiotic relationship. A growing population creates a need for goods and services. A surge in hiring, such as when a new company sets up shop, can create demand for workers from outside the area, boosting the local population. Generally, a change in either can’t be sustained without a similar change in the other.

In another example, an increase in California's population will lead to more healthcare needs and more California nursing jobs.

While most agree that more jobs are a good thing, opinions are often mixed on whether population growth is desirable. Newcomers, both legal and undocumented, are sometimes accused of stealing jobs, driving up the cost of living, and putting a strain on resources and services.

But with just 40 persons per square mile in 2010 compared to 87 nationwide, Oregon is the 12th least densely populated state. It depends on newcomers to grow. An expanding population is part and parcel of an expanding economy. New residents need a place to live, which boosts the rental market and makes work for homebuilders. They add consumers to the local service economy and bring money, skills and knowledge. Others start or invest in businesses that create jobs.

But how effectively does population growth create jobs and how much does the job market influence those who migrate here? Does employment drive population, or vice versa? With conspicuous legions of unemployed swelling during our recent “jobless recovery,” Oregon demographers and economists readily admit that employment remains the main driver of migration in and out of the state. But with unabated advancement of communications and technology, as well as limited pools of talent for key occupations, highly skilled employees increasingly dictate where they live and work based on quality of life, climate, family ties and other non-job factors.



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