RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
Packing up and making a major move is rarely easy and often a difficult decision, but many Americans are feeling desperate. A recent NPR-Kaiser Family Foundation poll surveyed long term unemployed or underemployed workers, and 40 percent of them said they would be willing to move out of state to find a job. NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports.
WENDY KAUFMAN, BYLINE: Brek Lawson was student body president at his well-regarded liberal arts college. And after graduating in 1990, he anticipated becoming part of the well-paid middle class. But over the past decade and a series of jobs and attempts to start his own business, nothing has quite worked out. He now finds himself saddled with debt and no job in sight.
BREK LAWSON: I've got a decent home. My wife is supporting us. I'm grateful for what I have, but I feel when it comes to finding a job that I can support my family, I feel - I don't know. It's not cornered. It's not hopeless. It's just, I want more. I want a way out.
KAUFMAN: So Lawson is considering a pretty radical step: moving from the Seattle suburbs to North Dakota. That state, in the midst of an energy boom, has the nation's lowest unemployment rate. Lawson, who participated in the NPR-Kaiser poll, knows the checkered work history on his resume is problematic. But he thinks he'll have better luck in a place where there are more job openings and where the bar to getting hired may be lower.
LAWSON: You show up at the door, you get past the resume, and you're there. You're ready to work. You've sacrificed by leaving family behind. You say yes to any shift, any time, to any pay and work, you know, within reason. And I feel like, in that situation, I'll shine.
KAUFMAN: The 44-year-old, who'd like to work in marketing, supply chain management or some kind of accounting, sees this as a way to get back on track. It won't be easy. He'd be away from his family and likely living in a trailer with someone else who needed a job.
WILLIAM FREY: The fact that these folks are willing to make these kinds of compromises tells you the kind of situation that we're in.
KAUFMAN: That's William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. He says this sort of thing wouldn't be happening as much in a normal economic environment.
FREY: What really keeps people stable are these social and family relationships. It's picking up and moving - you're changing your whole world. It's not just that you're changing a job. You're just changing your whole manner of existence.
KAUFMAN: While a sizeable number of individuals in our survey said they would make a long-distance move to find a job, for others, moving was not an option. Take Micki De Los Rayes. She's among the ranks of the long-term underemployed. A parapro in a school district in Central Washington State, her hours have been cut from about 30 a week to just over 20.
MICKI DE LOS RAYES: I've been really lucky. Like I say, you know, I could have lost my job. But it's been ugly. You know, it's scary.
KAUFMAN: De Los Rayes is a single mom in her 50s, raising five kids. They're not her biological kids, but kids who needed a home. Some of them have special needs, so moving would be especially difficult.
RAYES: The resources that I have in this community for my kids are really important. Medical care here is wonderful. I wouldn't want to interrupt that.
KAUFMAN: In addition, De Los Rayes lives with her daughter and her husband, who help care for the kids. So if she moved, they'd all have to move.
Other individuals don't move because they can't find jobs anywhere or they're living rent-free with family members, or because they can't sell their home.
In addition to a question about moving, individuals who've been unemployed or underemployed for more than a year were asked about other steps they would be willing to take to find a job. About 80 percent said they would work night and weekend shifts. Slightly more said they would take an entry-level job in a new field.
Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.