Duane Hoffmann / msnbc.com
By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 4/27/2008 5:52:46 PM ET 2008-04-27T21:52:46

During tough economic times, moving to a new city is sometimes your only option. But workers who relocate today for brighter employment horizons face major obstacles.

Many don’t have the luxury of time because they’re in a financial squeeze, being forced to make rash decisions on where to live. And for those who own homes in depressed markets, they can expect difficulties when the “For Sale” signs go up.

Lillian and her husband live in Detroit and they are considering moving to New Mexico.

“We have struggled for the past two years, but for the last six months it seems the economy in Detroit is getting worse,” explains Lillian, who did not want her full name used.

She works in accounting, but her husband, who has a background in construction and aviation, has been unemployed for two years. “We are living off my income, and when you fall behind you can never catch up,” she says.

They’re planning a trip to New Mexico in June to scout out the area, but they still have a house they have to unload. “The market in Detroit is very bad. … Actually my mortgage is more than what I can sell my house for. Right now, I am trying to look at a short sale, but no luck.”

Sylvia Carson already made the move to Atlanta from Chicago five months ago for a new job as director of public relations for Southern Polytechnic State University, but her husband is still back in Chicago. They have been unable to sell their home, and he has yet to land a job in Atlanta."

“My husband and I are going through a commuter marriage,” she says.

While Carson says her move was partly motivated by a desire to work in higher education, the high cost of living in a suburb of Chicago motivated the couple to relocate.

“Property taxes were high, the sales tax was on the rise. It just wasn’t a good cost of living equation,” she adds. “I wanted to get out, and the opportunity became available in Georgia where the cost of living is more reasonable.”

These experiences shed more light on how working stiffs today are feeling an economic pinch.

“We’re seeing more and more moving by necessity,” says Eric Winegardner, a vice president at Monster.com. “There’s a willingness on the part of job applicants to consider opportunities outside their current location.” About one-third of resumes created on Monster.com so far this year have indicated the job-hunters were open to relocating.

According to a survey by United Van Lines, more than 63 percent of people the company moved over the past year said their move was job-related. That’s up considerably from the 40 percent who typically say they move for work.

“This is a sign we’re probably way into a recession,” says Robert Trumble, professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University and director of the Virginia Labor Studies Center.

“During the Great Depression, huge areas of the country just uprooted and moved great distances without having any job lined up. They just knew that they were hopeless where they were,” he says.

Today, he continues, thanks to the Internet and mass media, “individuals can start looking for a job from afar,” taking some of the unknown out of the process.

So where are people going? And there are definite winners and losers when it comes to which towns most people are moving in and out of.

North Carolina ranked as the top destination people were migrating to in 2007, according to United, followed by Nevada, Washington, D.C. and Oregon. Alabama, South Carolina, West Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota, Arizona, and Tennessee also were popular destinations.

States in the Great Lakes region were among those that most people were packing up and leaving, with Michigan at the top of the list. North Dakota, New Jersey, New York, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio also were on the list of states from which residents were departing.

Bill Humphrey, senior vice president of Xonex Relocation Co., says he’s seeing more and more employees living in temporary housing when they move to a new town for a new job because they either can’t sell their homes or can’t afford to buy a new one.

Another problem he’s noticed is some workers who sell their homes still owe money because they took out a second or third mortgage on the property.

In any of these scenarios, Humphrey’s recommends that employees negotiate for relocation assistance from their employers. New hires can negotiate for temporary housing, lost home equity, a cost of living adjustment or even for help with a down payment on a new house.

Carson of Southern Polytechnic made sure a relocation package was part of her offer, and she used a big chunk of the money to scout out the area.

She’s optimistic her husband Christopher will find a job in the area soon because his background is in technology and there are a lot of opportunities in Atlanta.

“Right now, we see each other a couple of times a month,” she says. “It’s working for us.”

Yumi Choe and her husband Dan Jones, who both live in Athens, Ohio, want to relocate but haven’t quite decided on where.

Choe recently lost her purchasing job and has been unable to find work, and Jones is employed but not in academia, which is his goal given that he just completed his Ph.D. and is qualified to teach college-level film, art history and English.

“We've always been frugal, though, and have a six-month savings cushion in the bank that allows us a little bit of flexibility,” Choe says. “But the economy here is especially grim, and I am unlikely to find another position that will pay anywhere near my former salary. Thus, my husband and I are contemplating moving to another city or another state entirely.”

The couple, who don’t own a home or have children, have heard great things about Baltimore and Denver, but beyond that they don’t know how to decide on a new town.

Dan Deren, a career consultant and founder of LifeBoat Group, suggests asking yourself: “Where do I want to live? What do I want to do?”

You’ll need to spend time in the area you’re considering, he adds — a long weekend at least to drive around and get a feel for the place. And set up informational meetings with employers and the chamber of commerce, not for a particular job but to scope out opportunities.

He also advises people to read articles in magazines such as Money or Kiplinger’s and check out Web sites about the best places to live. You might want to investigate the cost of living, schools, quality of life, etc.

“You should marry where you’d like to live with where you can afford,” he says. “And don’t be afraid. Go with a sense of enthusiasm and adventure.”

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