Should the US Encourage the Unemployed to Emigrate?


Today’s initial claims numbers were very encouraging for people bullish on the economy. The number of claims came in at a four year low. Economists are increasingly optimistic about the job market recovering and economy. Last month’s job creating numbers came in at an impressive 227,000 jobs created.

However things are not so rosy. According to a study from the Brookings Institute from 2010, the employment situation is almost impossible to solve. Although the study is old, the facts remain very relevant today. Below is a quote and a chart:

If future job growth continues at a rate of roughly 208,000 jobs per month, the average monthly job creation for the best year for job creation in the 2000s, it would take 136 months (more than 11 years). In a more optimistic scenario, with 321,000 jobs created per month, the average monthly job creation for the best year in the 1990s, it would take over 57 months (almost 5 years).

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Below we suggest a radical and controversial  solution to this problem:

The Portuguese Prime Minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, created a firestorm of controversy in Portugal recently when he put the government’s official stamp of approval on the call for many of the nation’s unemployed to look outside the country for work.  A report published by USA Today on February 22, 2010, details many of the difficulties the unemployed in Portugal are facing.

What seemed at first to be a public relations gaffe soon received the governmental seal of approval when Conservative Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho advised unemployed teachers to search for jobs in Brazil and Angola.

“Look to the Portuguese-speaking market as a whole and maybe find alternative (opportunities) there,” the prime minister advised unemployed teachers, according to the Correio da Manhã newspaper.

Teachers and recent graduates are being particularly hard hit by the country’s continued poor economic performance, and austerity measures imposed on the country by the European Union as part of a massive financial bail-out Portugal recently received.

The Portuguese government has admitted it is unable to provide job opportunities to the country’s 700,000 unemployed, especially teachers and recent graduates. Many of them have lost jobs, or been unable to find employment at all, as a result of austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank when they bailed out the country to the tune of $115 billion last May.

The Portuguese Secretary of State for Youth and Sports echoed the Prime Minister’s encouragement for Portuguese citizens to look elsewhere for jobs.

“If people are unemployed they should leave their comfort zone and look beyond our borders,” he said late last year, to an outraged reaction from his increasingly frustrated fellow Portuguese, who blasted him for it via Twitter and Facebook.

Interestingly, there are similar calls in other nations for people to emigrate as a viable solution to their unemployment difficulties. As recently as February 2010, Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister, Mary Coughlan, stated on British television that emigration was “a legitimate response to the current economic hardship there.”  These comments were reported for Irish by Donal Thornton.  The seriousness of the situation for young unemployed people in Ireland was highlighted by the final comment in this report, “It’s about the fact that two thirds of young people in Limerick are signing on to the dole. It’s a catastrophe. It’s not a policy.”

Although there are no official calls from the U.S. government for American citizens to emigrate to other countries to find jobs, there is an identifiable trend of highly qualified U.S. citizens going elsewhere in the world to find jobs, and beat the difficult unemployment situation in this country. In a report for, Bob Sullivan provided details on this trend.

Americans are finding their way to employment all around the globe. In the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, many finance majors and investment bankers fled Wall Street for Hong Kong or other Asian destinations, where the banking industry was still thriving. With Australia benefitting from China’s economic growth, Americans are flocking there, too. Americans now rank third among those applying for work visas in Australia, behind only the U.K. and India, according the Wall Street Journal, and their ranks have swelled 80 percent in the past five years.

Whether it’s Portugal, Ireland or the United States, leaving your homeland to find a job is a very difficult decision.  People living in a nation aligned with the European Union area able to move across national boundaries within Europe fairly easily to look for work.  Portuguese citizens are able to move to another Portuguese speaking country or territory and fit into the local society reasonably well. However, when highly educated and skilled people leave a nation in large numbers, there is going to be a significant loss of productivity for that nation.  Every society makes a significant investment in the preparation of its young people to become productive adults, and the future leaders of the country. When a nation’s the brightest and best leave for other lands, a nation’s ability to solve its own problems is weakened.

Reality Check

What would be the economic savings to the nation if American workers began emigrating to other nations to find work? According to information provided in a report published by MSN dated February 18, 2011, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reported the average American Weekly unemployment check is $295.00.  Doing the math, if 25,000 unemployed workers in a particular year left the U.S. to find employment in another land, there would be a potential savings of $354,000,000 in unemployment insurance expenditures.  Taking the discussion a little further, according to data provided by the United States Department of Agriculture, the average food stamp cost for a family of four for the most liberal plan is $1244.30.  If the same 25,000 emigrating workers had a family of four and were receiving food stamps the potential annual savings to the nation could be as much as $373,300,000.  These numbers are not very large in relationship to the overall U.S. National Debt, and this large of an emigration rate probably could not be sustained year after year. There are not sufficient jobs available in other nations to absorb large numbers of unemployed Americans over the long run.

For the United States, the present level of emigration of U.S. citizens to other nations will not have a significant impact on the overall unemployment rate.  Certainly, the people who are finding work overseas do decrease the unemployment rolls very slightly and there may be a few less families receiving government support such as food stamps or subsidized medical care. However, the emigration of U.S. workers to other nations is not a viable solution to the nation’s unemployment woes.  The only real viable solution to the nation’s unemployment woes is to get the economic engine roaring back to life again.  America needs to regain its leadership in manufacturing, research and development and the development of domestic energy sources.

However more research must be done to see if this might be a good idea. For example, one factor not weighed here is money returned back home. If these people emigrate and find good jobs, they will likely return a lot of the money to the US to family members. That money will be sent by consumers back to America to spend.

Maybe this is a good idea after all?

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