Why don’t poor people move to somewhere cheaper?

Sometimes I hear friends speculate about why poor people continue to live in expensive places like Boston, rather than moving to the country or another city where cost of living is lower.

Some speculations:

Less experience with travel. By the time I was 18, I had visited much of the Eastern US, plus England. My family could afford to do things like drive to Disney World, stopping in towns along the way. I visited colleges all over the northeast. My children’s choir had done a trip to New York City. I had an idea of what those places were like, and I knew some people in other places. Whereas I get the impression that most of my clients have rarely, if ever, left the Boston area.

More localized social networks. I went to a magnet high school, so I knew people from all around the metro area of my city. Then I went to a liberal arts college that drew from all over the world, with the result that I now have classmates everywhere from Pittsburgh to Karachi. If I wanted to start over in a new city, I would lots of people who could help connect me with jobs, put me up while I looked for an apartment, etc. If I had gone to neighborhood schools and not gone to college, I imagine I would have fewer friends in other places.

Some of my clients grew up in “street affiliations,” which is sometimes like a small gang but sometimes just more of a social affiliation. I didn’t even know people had groups based on the actual street they live on. I knew a worker at a community center in West Philadelphia who said she ran into a lot of resistance because she grew up several streets away rather than on the actual street where she worked. So even moving neighborhoods can be a big deal.

More dependence on family. Most of my clients describe e.g. staying on their aunt’s couch when they have nowhere else to go.  If they moved to a place where they didn’t have family, they’d lose a major resource. So moving to a place where you don’t know anyone, and particularly where you don’t have family, is a non-starter.

Transportation. If you can’t afford a car, living in a rural area (or most suburban areas) is not viable. You need to live somewhere with public transit.

Moving costs. Moving to a new area requires transporting yourself and your family, transporting your belongings or acquiring new ones, staying someplace while you look for an apartment, paying a deposit and a month’s rent for an apartment, time unemployed while you look for a job, and finding someone to watch your children before you even have a job so you can go to job interviews.

Legal requirements. Poor people are disproportionately likely to be involved with the legal system. Moving probation or parole to a new state is difficult.

Children. My impression is that a lot of low-income parents depend on their parents or other relatives to help with childcare, which makes perfect sense. Childcare costs around $200/week (the cheapest I’ve seen listed in the Boston area, on a sketchy-looking Craigslist post) and take-home pay working 40 hours at minimum wage is $293/week. Moving away from free childcare would be crazy.

If you share custody with an ex-partner, how will visits work? Can you afford to drive the kids from Western Mass to Boston each weekend to visit the other parent? Or shuttle them back and forth to the other parent for summer vacations? Maybe not.

Also, uprooting children from their school and neighborhood is never easy, regardless of class.

More reliance on word-of-mouth rather than internet. If I moved to a new place, I’d be pretty confident finding my way around with Yelp, Google Maps, Meetup, job search sites, etc. I have the impression that my clients use the internet mostly to stay in touch with people they already know in real life, and that they wouldn’t be very familiar with how to use it to navigate a new social environment.  This one is just a guess.

1 thought on “Why don’t poor people move to somewhere cheaper?

  1. Fennarama (@fennarama)

    Not to mention that government subsidies don’t travel well. If you’re on Section 8 in one county, moving into another county might make you ineligible, put you on a wait list, or take forever to transfer. Why chance losing a necessary resource?



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