A 21st Century Grapes of Wrath

We’re all familiar with the book The Grapes of Wrath, the depression tale of millions of desperate families during the 1930s that headed to California for promised jobs.

I’m not suggesting we’re at this stage yet, but for millions of unemployed Americans, they are finding that the local job market has dried up and they may need to relocate to more prosperous areas.

The good news is that there are plenty of jobs, if you know where to look.

Jobs these days, like real estate, seem to be determined by location, location, location.

The governors of some states seem to be able to accomplish what the federal government can’t — creating good-paying, private sector jobs, while reducing taxes, regulations and the influence of labor unions.

A perfect example is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose “Blueprint for Prosperity” has turned a $3.6 billion deficit into a $2.0 billion surplus.

His plan is designed to put taxpayers back in charge, with reforms that put more money in their pockets. At the same time, he’s dropped unemployment in his state by 3 percentage points to 6.1 percent, resulting in the best private sector job growth since the 1990s.

The upshot, of course, is that companies in nearby states like Illinois are relocating to Wisconsin to reduce taxes and tap into a steady labor pool not hindered by union dominance. With this shift, thousands of workers and their families have moved to Wisconsin.

In North Dakota, the state’s average personal income ranking went from 38th in 2006 to 6th place in 2012. Department of Commerce data show that during those six years, North Dakota’s per capita personal income grew from 14 percent below the national average to 25 percent above the average.

While a lot of that growth is connected to the Bakken Shale field, they are spurring growth in renewable energy, applied manufacturing, technology, agriculture and aerospace. People are recognizing that North Dakota is a business-friendly state, and skilled workers from around the country are coming to North Dakota, where once they were leaving the state.

Most noteworthy is that North Dakota is making a big push to give jobs to returning veterans who have the work ethic and skills that are attractive to employers.

There is news out of Colorado that a recovering housing market in Denver has led to a dramatic shortage of skilled construction workers.

According to The Wall Street Journal, home builders in the Denver area built 6,700 homes last year, up from 3,200 in 2009.

As a result, framers that build the support structure for new homes are earning $35 to $40 per hour. Skilled tile installers can earn more than $100,000 per year, up from $70,000 a year that was once the commanding wage. Backhoe operators can earn $60,000 to $70,000 annually.

There are so few skilled workers that homes are being delayed for months.

And then in a reverse version of The Grapes of Wrath, thousands of workers will be moving from Torrance, Calif., to Plano, Texas, as Toyota builds a new factory there.

Uprooting a family can be painful and stressful. Yet, for many families, they have no choice but to seek employment in states that are hiring and paying good wages.

There are lessons to be learned that the Obama administration chooses to ignore.

None of the states I’ve discussed has found that the solution to helping residents is to increase entitlements. And none have found that increasing the minimum wage is the solution. They don’t need to because they are creating jobs with salaries well above the minimum wage.

It’s agonizing to conjure up images of a great migration during the Great Depression. American working men and women should not have to abandon a community and their way of life to find work.

Let’s hope that other states emulate what is being done in states like in Texas, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

As John Steinbeck wrote in The Grapes of Wrath: “Our people are good people; our people are kind people. Pray God some day kind people won’t all be poor.”

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