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Would You Travel 560 Miles To Work Everyday?

One man in Wisconsin is willing to do so.

I was caught by an Associated Press report the other day that featured Michael Hanley, a GM employee who had to decide whether to stick to his company after the Wisconsin plant became idle in December 2008 or bear the low salary in a small company in his hometown.

His choice? He continued work at GM that has also employed his father and other relatives for decades. But there’s a setback: he’ll have to be relocated to Kansas. So Hanley accepted the offer knowing that GM’s benefits are competitive. But instead of finding a new home, he decided to stay with his family in Kansas and bear the burden of driving his truck 560 miles to the plant everyday – yes, everyday.

You may wonder why Hanley is willing to sacrifice a lot for his job but his intentions were much better. He didn’t want to lose his insurance and he needs to support his wife’s chemotherapy. Bob Borremans, head of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board says, “Because of the benefits, the working conditions, the pay … it was THE coveted job in the area. In many cases, people, because of who they knew, were able to walk in and get a job there. That created animosity.”

But a more eye-opening part was mentioned in the report: “The long commute is not just a story of hard times, tough choices and a shrinking American auto industry. It’s also a case study of what happens when an aging industrial town loses an anchor, when workers too old to start over and too young to retire are caught in a squeeze and when economic survival means one family, but two far-flung ZIP codes.”

I couldn’t agree less. This is a new type of diaspora in the American labor force. Hanley is a fresh example of the thousands who turn their areas into ghost towns by day and normal communities by night. What this implies in the real estate market is that even though the economy softens, unemployment will be less pronounced if workers are given a choice of other jobs available. In this case, it was a matter of distance and not career change anyway (Still, we couldn’t say that Hanley maintained his net income since he’s paying for more gas now).

But people like Hanley are doing a favor to their local community. Had he decided to relocate, his home could be in the market for a really long time. On the other hand, had he chosen to say, he’d be forced to borrow from his house’s equity and eventually fall into foreclosure anyway.

In this case, traveling more than 1,000 miles to and from work is all worth it.

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