The Housing Dilemma: It's Holding Workers Back The inability to sell, rent or refinance a home could become one of the biggest obstacles to matching talent with the right job. Experts say more people could face the dilemma of choosing between a job and a house -- especially if the job market improves faster than the housing market.
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The Housing Dilemma: It's Holding Workers Back

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The Housing Dilemma: It's Holding Workers Back

The Housing Dilemma: It's Holding Workers Back

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Melissa Block.


And Im Robert Siegel.

One problem facing many people these days is that they want to take a new job in another part of the country but they can't move. Thats because they're shackled to their home, unable to sell and underwater on their home loans. That lack of mobility means people lose the chance to pursue better job opportunities.

This is the latest issue that we explore in our series this week on how the slow-growth economy is affecting the use of Human Capital.

Here's NPR's Yuki Noguchi.

YUKI NOGUCHI: Getting a job at a time when work is relatively scarce seems like an opportunity that would make most people jump, yet Jim Mallozzi says many dont or can't. Mallozzi is CEO of Prudential's real estate operations. He also heads its relocation services unit, which handles logistics for companies that need to move their workers.

Mr. JIM MALLOZZI (CEO, Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services): More people are reluctant to move. And the inability to sell their house or having negative equity is probably now the number one reason why people are refusing a move.

NOGUCHI: Mallozzi says people are turning down jobs even if it's a better opportunity. Government agencies that previously relocated workers every two or three years are extending those terms because many people can't afford the move.

Mallozzi is quite familiar with this dilemma. He's relocating himself.

Mr. MALLOZZI: Im kind of in the middle of one right now, actually, from the East Coast to the West Coast. So...

NOGUCHI: Are you having this issue at all?

Mr. MALLOZZI: Oh, absolutely.

NOGUCHI: Mallozzi says he's still trying to work out whether to sell the house and move his family or to travel back and forth instead.

In Mallozzi's case, the house isn't holding back his career. But he's not so sure thats true for all of his clients. The number of people refusing a corporate relocation has gone from five percent a few years ago to 35 percent, largely because of a house.

In fact, a study by a trade group called Worldwide ERC found that three-quarters of employers are finding growing reluctance among workers to move -again, largely because their homes have lost value.

Economists say employers aren't filling jobs, probably because they can't find workers with the right skills. In turn, workers aren't moving up the ladder or making optimal use of their skills either. But how big a deal is this? It's hard to measure.

Professor WILLIAM WHEATON (Departments of Economics, MIT): What we dont know is how much this is impacting the labor market.

NOGUCHI: William Wheaton is an economist at MIT.

Prof. WHEATON: The only thing we know is that the number of job vacancies is rising quite rapidly. Thats a little bit, you know, exemplary of a market where workers just can't get to the job thats right for them.

NOGUCHI: This had been the case for Andrea Davis and her husband.

Ms. ANDREA DAVIS: I felt trapped and it - I mean, it just got worse over time.

NOGUCHI: Two years ago, Davis' husband was offered a great job repairing aircraft in North Carolina. But because they weren't able to sell, rent or refinance their home in Albuquerque, he had to quit and move back. Recently when Davis's husband was reoffered the same job, they decided to ditch the house, let it go into foreclosure, but not without huge regrets.

Ms. DAVIS: It was really hard to walk away from that house yesterday. I mean, I dont know, I think people are just going to loot it. You know, I feel afraid for that. I feel like I'm making the neighborhood worse because I'm leaving it.

NOGUCHI: Experts say if the job market heats up and the housing market doesnt start recovering, this mobility issue could become an even bigger trap.

Robert Damon is president of North American operations for the executive-recruitment firm Korn/Ferry. He says it's already getting harder to find top executives with the right skills who are willing to move. He says soon, companies will have to do more to help workers out of their housing jams.

Mr. Robert Damon (President, North American, Korn/Ferry International): Companies are going to have to start making good on any of the money that they lose on houses, and also give them assistance on the house that they buy.

NOGUCHI: That would be a reversal of the trend now. Companies have been cutting housing and relocation benefits over the past two years.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.

SIEGEL: And tomorrow, we continue our series on Human Capital with a Massachusetts company thats had so much trouble finding workers, it started its own training school.

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