By Kevin Frazier
“Go Home.” More than one commentator provided that bit of feedback to my recent piece in the San Francisco Chronicle. In that article, I attempted to describe why Californians (including myself) were increasingly fleeing the Golden State and traveling on the “Zoom Trail” to states like Montana and South Dakota – places where they could work remotely and feel as though they could still attain the American Dream.
With apologies to the commentators begging me to return “home,” the truth of the matter is I’m not sure where home is. I grew up in Oregon, but academic and professional opportunities took me elsewhere. I spent time in California, but housing prices and a slew of other factors sent me to Montana. I’m enjoying the Treasure State, but have plans to spend some time in South Dakota. “Home” is hard to define. For better and worse, I’m not alone in struggling to answer what used to be a simple question.
With increasing frequency, other Americans will be in the same position — a combination of climate chaos, economic instability, and housing insecurity will continue to uproot people from their “homes” and send them to new communities, new states, and, in some cases, new nations.
Across the globe, this perfect storm of migratory pressures has brought Palestinians, Afghans, Somalians, and many others to Greece, Ukrainians to wherever will host them, and “Northern Triangle” migrants to the United States. The effects of migration are inevitable—calamities and chaos will continue to cause more people to look for a new home. The effects—both positive and negative—are also widespread. Consider that in 2022, all 50 U.S. states recorded positive net international migration.
States must not only learn to accommodate and welcome residents from abroad – they must also become more welcoming of domestic arrivals. More than 318,000 Americans moved to Florida last year. Similarly, 230,000 folks left their home state for Texas. Almost 100,000 people uprooted themselves and settled in North Carolina. Are the current residents of Florida, Texas, and North Carolina going to demand that their new neighbors go “home”? Will they insist that the “transplants” adopt their political, social, and religious norms—if so, who gets to decide those norms and who will enforce them? When will the “old” residents accept the “new” ones as members of their community rather than guests—five winters? five summers? or some other arbitrary measure?
Of course, these questions can be flipped to put the burden of forging a new community on the migrants. For instance, will the “new” residents make an effort to get to know long-term residents or stay in their Zoom rooms?
Given the inevitable surge in uprooted Americans and people from around the world, the current disdain for newcomers is unacceptable if America is going to avoid perpetual demographic decline – and the dire economic, political, and social consequences that result from that status. Recent forecasts suggest that deaths will outpace births in the US as soon as the 2040s. The recent news that China experienced a decline in natural population serves as a warning to nations on the verge of a similar fate—those nations need to prepare for a reality that may come sooner than anticipated. Nations, such as the US, for which net immigration will serve as the basis for all population growth must become drastically better hosts to newcomers.
Being a welcoming host is easier said than done – as anyone who has invited an in-law over for the holidays can attest to. Most importantly, being a good host requires dropping a scarcity mindset – the idea that everything the guest “takes” amounts to a loss to the host. This is a tough ask at a time when scarcity is a very real and very substantial reality for millions of Americans – affordable housing is unavailable across the country, quality jobs seem to be disappearing, and food prices seem to refuse to go down. Yet, if we frame “new arrivals” as anything other than “new neighbors,” then that scarcity will only get worse—opportunities to share resources will go missed, chances to collaboratively advocate for policy changes will pass us by, and moments to forge a stronger, unified community will go unrealized.
Millions of Americans and billions around the planet—for one reason or another—will leave “home” in the coming years and decades. Some will leave home by choice, others will be forced out. Whatever uproots Americans, the communities that embrace new arrivals as new neighbors will have the best odds of making the most of what figures to be difficult circumstances.
So, I don’t know where home is, but wherever I go, I will continue to do my best to be a good neighbor. Will you do the same? Our economy requires it and, more importantly, our democracy depends on it.
About the Author
Kevin Frazier (@KevinTFrazier) graduated from the UC Berkeley of Law and Harvard Kennedy School. He’s a judicial clerk in Montana. His views are his own.
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