Labor Mobility in a Federal System: The United States

24 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2004

See all articles by Sanford M. Jacoby

Sanford M. Jacoby

University of California, Los Angeles

Matthew Finkin

University of Illinois College of Law

Date Written: March 2004


Those who view Europe as having insufficient geographic mobility often draw a comparison to the United States, where mobility is higher. But the disparity in mobility is not an innate characteristic differentiating European and U.S. labor markets. Rather, mobility rates have fluctuated over time in the United States and in Europe in response to changes in economic conditions, in demographic characteristics, and in socio-legal institutions. In this paper, we first explain why the legal regime in the United States is conducive of mobility. Barriers imposed by the state to deter immigration have long been unlawful and indirect barriers, though subject to less stringent examination, must also pass constitutional muster. Next we review historical trends in geographic mobility, which show that both Europe and the U.S. have experienced dramatic changes in mobility over the last two hundred years and that these changes have occurred roughly in tandem.

Keywords: Geographic mobility, labor mobility, labor law, labor market history

JEL Classification: J61, K31, N30, N31, N33

Suggested Citation

Jacoby, Sanford M. and Finkin, Matthew W., Labor Mobility in a Federal System: The United States (March 2004). Available at SSRN: or

Sanford M. Jacoby (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles ( email )

Los Angeles, CA 90095-1481
United States
310-2109362 (Phone)

Matthew W. Finkin

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

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