More On Migration, and the Future of Work and School

Last weekend, we took a day trip to a little town, Hudson, along the Hudson River about two hours north of Manhattan (1-1/2 hours away from us). I blogged about the trip and shared some pictures. Last weekend, we went camping on the other side of the Hudson River, also about two hours from Manhattan, 1-1/2 hours from us.

Hudson, NY has many more intellectual, money, city people. There are used book shops and antique stores everywhere. Last weekend’s retreat, the Roscoe, NY area, has fewer cute shops and a lot more hunters. We always liked it because it was undiscovered. Well, that changed in the past year.

Again, more city people everywhere. Real estate prices skyrocketed. The local real estate magazine said that people are buying properties without even looking at them in person. Probably because they are knocking down the old ranch-style homes and building modern country retreats with brown board and batten siding and red window trim. God, I’m such a sucker for that look. They are building those houses in extremely isolated, but beautiful locations. On top of mountains or along small rivers infested with fly fishermen.

Real estate advertisements make a point of mentioning that these properties have high speed internet for remote work. Last week, I wondered what’s going to happen to all those who relocated to these far-off locations. I’m still wondering.

Most schools are not going to offer any remote classes this September. Many CEOs in New York City, especially in fields like law and business, want butts back in the seats. Those businesses never downsized their office footprint. So, will all those families move back?

I can’t imagine that many families are anxious to go back. The city still hasn’t gotten its mojo back. There’s a lot of fun happening out in the country now. The Roscoe area now has three breweries, BBQ pits, and a fancy brick oven pizza restaurant.

All schools are problematic in the city right now. The rich private schools are in-fighting about critical race theory. The elite public schools are under attack for the lack of diversity. The regular public schools have always been mediocre at best, and haven’t really opened in one and a half years. I’m hearing a lot of buzz about the return of parochial schools.

But those schools in those upstate schools are not up to standards of the upper middle class families that have relocated up there. The schools in my town are rated as 9’s or 10’s on the real estate websites; the schools around Roscoe are rated 4’s or 5’s. The mothers may have been homeschooling for a year, but are they prepared to keep going at it?

This whole lifestyle is based on a traditional family dynamic. I’m assuming that the mothers have permanently left the workforce to deal with caretaking responsibilities and that they can afford to live on a single income, because they’ve moved to a cheaper area. I’m assuming that a lot of families like the slower pace of life.

So, if the guys are able to work remotely with weekly visits to the city, then the homeschooling moms have to make some choices — keep homeschooling, invest in local schools and transform them, or set up new charter schools. I have no idea what will happen, but I’m thinking about setting up a website for special education parents to help them with homeschooling or charter schools.

I kinda hope that this outward migration pattern continues. I think it helps spread out money across a broader region; Roscoe schools are going to benefit from all the taxes on those new modern cabin homes. I like that people have more options about lifestyles. I love watching creative people take over neglected towns making them unique; there are a lot more options for our weekend day trips.

On the other hand, I do have friends — empty nesters — who are thinking about snapping up an apartment in the city, because they’re are looking for a bargain and don’t have to worry about schools anymore.

What’s your ideal work/school/life arrangement? Return to the past with no changes? Keep remote work? Move? City or country?

20 thoughts on “More On Migration, and the Future of Work and School

  1. “I kinda hope that this outward migration pattern continues. I think it helps spread out money across a broader region; Roscoe schools are going to benefit from all the taxes on those new modern cabin homes. I like that people have more options about lifestyles. I love watching creative people take over neglected towns making them unique; there are a lot more options for our weekend day trips.”
    This is a yesbut comment: the people who are truly screwed here are the folks who grew up in Roscoe and were making rent and hoping to buy a couple acres with a doublewide working at the Walmart fifteen miles away and the whole thing just vanished into thin air because some summbish from the city can snap his fingers and buy the two acres and trash the doublewide and have his cabin in the woods put up there.

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  2. I still think the dispersal of the wealthy can be good for communities, but only if the arrivers invest in their new villages.

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  3. There’s an titter ad by Pearson, the mega textbook company, that says it will support homeschoolers, charter schools with remote education. I think those rural gentrifiers are planning on staying.

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    1. I do wonder how the pandemic experience will develop even more models of education. Before the pandemic, a colleague I know had already decided to withdraw her kid from private school and was hiring multiple tutors (she was planning on grad students) to teach him. I haven’t heard how that is working. Her initial plans were to use her office at the U as his schooling location. Combined with online classes/non-school sports (and, it is possible to access sports within the public schools), one can build a custom education.

      One of my kids would have hated that; the other, I don’t know. She would have hated it if I were in charge, but with others?

      And this was shared on a FB group, an article by a HS student with mobility disabilities who wants zoom classes to continue: https://www.inputmag.com/features/disabled-high-school-student-ending-zoom-classes-personal-essay

      Zoom classes are clearly not the equitable solution to what she describes — an inaccessible HS. But, since the schools access isn’t going to be fixed in her HS career (or potentially, never), Zoom classes seem like a partial solution. Now there are students who, combining that with least restrictive environments, suggest that they should be provided Zoom access to the classes in their local HS (a local HS student made that argument to our school board). I don’t see how that can work while providing in school instruction for the majority of students, but these are discussions we will have.

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  4. Midcoast Maine has had a big contingent of wealthy(er) retirees and vacationers; now the locals, even the middle class locals, cannot afford real estate. My niece, a nurse, and her partner, a harbor pilot (pretty well paid) are trying hard to afford a home, but it’s tough sledding. Same is happening in Marquette, Michigan up on Lake Superior and not in commuting distance of anywhere. Locals cannot afford to live there any more. They have to commute to old mining towns 20 miles away.

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    1. I used to live in midcoast Maine and I think that the affordable housing crisis is overstated. When people say “I can’t afford a home” you need to silently append “on the water” to that statement. If you move a few miles inland there are abundant affordable housing stocks left and right.

      Affordable unless you are a semi-employed high school dropout with an off-and-on opioid habit, of which there are many in Maine. But your niece and her partner, from your description, don’t seem to be part of that demographic.

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      1. True about moving inland — but he was born and grew up not on the water but not too far away, and could have afforded a house in that town up until just a few years ago. So could stay near his elderly father, etc.

        Inland Maine is another story, of course. Very poor in many places, and with affordable (and often quite deteriorated) housing that goes begging.

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    2. Aspen has long been like that, but more and more rural towns are joining the trend, including some that not vacation hot spots. I blame increasing wealth inequality, that’s long affected the cities where the rich live, but now more rich are rich enough that they can also have multiple houses.

      Vacationers, who don’t live in an area can create disruptions and increase costs without benefiting those who live there year round. Retirees (and, potentially, their lack of support for families) do as well.

      But families moving to the town could increase value in the community (even if they also increase some house prices), especially if building is not zoned out.

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    3. “When people say “I can’t afford a home” you need to silently append “on the water” to that statement.”

      I think the real statement is “I can’t afford the home [my parents could afford, or that I could have afforded 10 years ago, or even 2 years ago”. Rationally (though no human being is rational in the economic sense) we need to consider current prices, but everyone holds models in their head of what they should get for a certain amount of money. How many live in houses that they couldn’t afford now? And the dissonance is stronger when housing costs are going up faster than salaries (as they do when people with NY salaries come to live in Maine).

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      1. I recommend Bloomberg’s “Odd Lots” podcast: https://www.bloomberg.com/oddlots-podcast

        The episodes, “How the U.S. Ran Out of Houses for Sale,” and “Why the Price of Lumber Has Soared Day After Day After Day” are very interesting on this question.

        In general, though, people can’t afford homes because the country hasn’t been building enough housing. https://www.cbre.com/research-and-reports/US-Multifamily-Research-Brief–Housing-Undersupply-Contributes-to-Housing-Affordability-Challenge–J (Note that this report is from 2019, predating Covid.)

        Other factors (from the podcast): 2008 wiped out many builders. After 2008, the builders did not stock up on land; they weren’t optimistic about return on investment. Land owners are unwilling to sell at prices below 2007 levels. A rising property market means land owners are still unwilling to sell. There is also a shortage of construction workers. Also, the lumber shortage will continue. Before Covid, lumber was cheap, because the Canadian forest managers were clearing out beetle kill pine. A number of US mills closed. At present the Canadians have decreased the amount of trees they will allow to be harvested from their forests.

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  5. “I think it helps spread out money across a broader region; Roscoe schools are going to benefit from all the taxes on those new modern cabin homes.”

    Ontario schools are provincially funded so we don’t have quite that uplift as housing prices shoot up further out from the Greater Toronto Area. But we have seen similar patterns. Condo prices went down for one of the first times (changing AirBNB/short term accommodation regulations contributed.)

    The province did commit to one more year of virtual learning (I suspect they are going to try to keep it going longer; they have been planning to market an Ontario education across the world for a while) so if your kids can adapt to that, you can keep your far-flung retreat.

    For me, I love Toronto and I love living right on the edge of Lake Ontario in my Guildwood oasis (27 minute GO train ride to downtown, pre-Covid every 15 min, plus regular transit.) One of the advantages of being in a bigger school board is that even with relatively similar funding models, we have a lot more ability to specialize and so we have specialist high schools which I’ve found are great. I’ve got one child with 2 more years, and my little guy hasn’t chosen a path yet but I’d like to keep it open for him. Also, in Toronto we have 4 high quality universities and so my kids may be here for a while.

    After that though, I have to admit my dream is to semi-retire and run a retreat centre with programs in meditation and cold water training (my husband) and creativity/writing and grief retreats, particularly for bereaved parents (me) as well as maybe renting out space to other groups. The change in real estate prices has put that further out though – I was hoping to leverage my GenX city win for a larger property. But 8-10 years is a long time and I think there may well be a migration back, or maybe the mythological Boomer bust will finally roll through. Also, I change goals all the time. We’re privileged where we are right now.

    In personal news, all the over-18s in our family are booked for our second shots on Thursday, which is unexpected but very welcome. My 15 yr old will be a while longer, but then I don’t know how we’ll manage with my 10 year old still being vulnerable. Still, the end is in sight and I’m deep in summer day camp planning. Woo hoo.

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  6. I can’t stay in the house so much. I went back to the office two days a week even though allowed to stay home all days. I’m very glad they were concerned about safety and happy to have two days a week of WFH, but I was starting to feel like I was always working when I was home.

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  7. New Hampshire’s Lakes region is seeing a surge in popularity with people from out of state: https://www.wmur.com/article/lakes-region-laconia-winnipesaukee-boating-recreation/36641941

    “Whether it’s gas, beer and wine, food sales, to-go orders, rentals, everything is up by at least 37%,” Cardella said.

    He said last season’s first-time visitors from places like New York and New Jersey have returned.

    “The same ones that were here last year are already here this year, which we’ve never seen before,” Cardella said. “So, they kind of fell in love with the lake, like a lot of us did up here.”

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  8. But those schools in those upstate schools are not up to standards of the upper middle class families that have relocated up there. The schools in my town are rated as 9’s or 10’s on the real estate websites; the schools around Roscoe are rated 4’s or 5’s.

    Well, before the pandemic, people judged the quality of schools by test scores. Some schools with not so good average scores had some students with great scores. Many rural systems have a few star students. The “frog pond” set up of suburban “super zips” may not be the healthiest system for kids. This year of remote schooling may have let parents witness what standards actually are in the classroom, and see whether some of their kids are happier without the daily Deathmarch to Harvard.

    There are also many things you can do to supplement a child’s education through the internet. Many of these parents may have discovered that already.

    Looking at Wikipedia, there are many towns in the area that had larger populations around 1950, so an increase in population would not be unprecedented. I agree that in my opinion, it would be much healthier for our country to spread out the population across the country, rather than clustering in a few ultra-dense, ultra-expensive cities.

    The key to a transition will be youth sports. (For normal people. Our family is not normal.) What does this mean for football?

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  9. Apple employees are objecting to losing remote work: https://www.theverge.com/2021/6/4/22491629/apple-employees-push-back-return-office-internal-letter-tim-cook

    Silicon Valley is a very expensive place to live.

    I’d say it’s worth considering that many companies have software teams working together, but from different places on the globe. The same software team might have people in India, Virginia and Austin, Texas. So in effect, they’re all working remotely, together, from their offices. If you’re scheduling conference calls with people in different time zones, going in to the office at 5 in the morning gets old pretty quickly, I’d think.

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  10. I’m just back from 8 days in WA with my 8-year-old, the first time since March 2020 that I’ve been more than 25 minutes from home, and the first time since Nov. 2019 that I’ve seen my West Coast family.

    Some notes:

    -WA was in some respects like getting into a time machine from 2+ months ago. Perhaps the most colorful story involves a visit to a bookstore in Port Angeles. They had a note on the door saying not to use the handle, but to buzz the doorbell and stand back 6 feet. When I did that, the shopkeeper came out, spritzed our hands with sanitizer, and let us in. There was a note on the door on the inside saying to ask to be let out, which we did. Of course, this involved a lot more close contact than if we had been allowed to open and close the door ourselves…All of this while masked and presumably vaccinated…
    –The biggest quality of life issue was the @#$%^&*! federal transportation rules, which meant that when the 8-year-old and I were on the plane, in the airport, on a bus, or on the ferry (as we were on our first day of travel), we were supposed to be masked pretty much all day.

    wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/rider-information/updates/2020/09/30/covid-19-travel-updates

    “Face masks are required at all WSF facilities to limit the spread of COVID-19. The requirement includes both indoor and outdoor spaces. Customers traveling by vehicle are encouraged to remain in their vehicles for the duration of their trip, while those in the cabin should practice safe physical distancing.”

    So, you could be on the open deck of the ferry at full sail, the most ventilated space imaginable, and you’d still be required to wear a mask.
    –Here, as in other respects, I found that a lot of WA rules and practices had a frozen-in-amber feeling. WA is 58% vaccinated with first doses, and it’s like that made no difference at all.
    –I did note that just about everywhere we went in WA, people seemed to be doing a fair amount of “forgetting” about masking rules. It wasn’t a large number of people at once in any setting, but there was always somebody. Ditto on the plane.
    –Sis had talked about people in our hometown being outlaws, but just about everybody was masked at our rural grocery store and things otherwise seemed pretty reasonable.
    –The saving grace was the eating/drinking loophole. Before our trip, I had seen it described how in strict coastal areas of the US, people walk around unmasked, mask up to walk into a restaurant, and then unmask at their table. During our trip, we did the same thing a dozen times. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it made the whole thing a lot more livable. Husband and I didn’t do any indoor dining until we were both vaccinated, so this custom baffles me.
    –The airports were really busy.
    –tldr; It was reasonably normal except for our travel days and occasional pockets of weirdness. I really, really hope I will never have to wear a mask on a plane again. If Biden keeps the mask requirement going too long for transportation, it’s going to turn into a 2022 election issue.

    There was so much tourist traffic that there were a couple of days where we avoided the restaurant near our hotel in WA Hometown, as they were crushed by traffic. My WA tourist industry relatives have apparently been raking in the tourist cash this year. Road trips have been very popular with the well-heeled.

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    1. Some June 2021 Texas notes:

      –The guy who drove us home from the airport says that he had a year of no work at all, due to the lack of people flying. His wife was work-from-home and the honey-do list was interminable. He’s thrilled that they’re both working outside the house now. They did a new $15k kitchen during the pandemic. Somebody gave him a $350k offer for his house (bought for half that), but as he said, you sell your house, then where are you going to live? You’d just have to pay more for something else. Anyway, he thinks his house is perfect now, so he’s keeping it. He didn’t get COVID, but his daughter and grandkid did. He and his wife are headed to the Caribbean for a richly-deserved cruise this summer. He was unenthusiastic about the idea of having his cruise messed up by lax vaccination standards. As he noted, there’s the possibility of getting locked up in your tiny cabin for two weeks in case of an outbreak, as happened last year. He had his two I’ve-been-vaccinated stickers prominently displayed in the van.
      –The Hometown U. cafeteria has switched to just having a sign that says that masking is optional for vaccinated people. Result: just about no diners wear masks, and about half of workers do.
      –I’ve been saying that we’d know the pandemic was over when HEB (our grocery chain) told us it was over. Well, today I went to the store, and the sign on the front door said something like, masking optional for vaccinated people, but the CDC recommends it for unvaccinated people. Note that they weren’t saying that they required it…Probably about 50% of people in the store were unmasked, down from maybe 15% a week and a half ago.
      –I’m now getting into the habit of checking front door signage, but it feels like the local norm is now that verbiage about masking optional for vaccinated people…

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      1. One of my young relatives in Germany got vaccinated with Johnson and Johnson, of all things. I guess the Germans are using anything they can get their hands on.

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