How Hourly Workers are Migrating Across the U.S.

Key takeaways

  • A small share of flexible workers on the Instawork platform are working in more than one metropolitan area.
  • Most of the mobility occurs between metro areas in the same state.
  • The availability of work, as well as personal reasons for changing locations, are apparently bigger drivers of mobility than differences in hourly pay.

The Instawork platform offers hourly workers flexibility in time, industry, role, and importantly in location as well. This week we analyze the movements of Instawork Professionals (Pros) within the United States and Canada. 

We find the most mobility in states with multiple large metro areas, especially California, Florida, and Texas. Our data also suggest availability of work could be a driving factor for a significant minority of migrating workers, perhaps even more important than differential pay rates.

To receive future economic insights from the Instawork Economic Research Division, please subscribe by visiting:

Domestic migration of hourly workers

Hourly professionals using the Instawork platform value flexibility across many dimensions: industry, role, time, and location. Instawork operates across the United States and in Canada, and most hourly workers have portable skills.

Here is a map of their movements since 2021, tracked by the shifts they completed:  

24 Mar 2022 migration of pros since 2021

Though migrating workers are a relatively small share of the people who use the Instawork platform, their movements still offer valuable insights into the labor market. For example, there is strong mobility between the major metropolitan areas in California – San Diego, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area – but Las Vegas is an important part of the same circuit. In Texas, there is a lot of movement between Austin, Dallas, and Houston, but Dallas is by far the biggest attractor. In Florida, the strongest interchanges are between Miami and Tampa, and Tampa and Orlando, but not between Miami and Orlando.

Here are the biggest destinations for Instawork Pros:

24 Mar 2022 top destinations for pros

Professionals aged 45 and older tend to prefer California and Atlanta rather than New York, Las Vegas, and Dallas, which are more popular with younger age groups.

Discussions with Instawork Pros have revealed a wealth of anecdotal reasons for migration: travel, family obligations, educational or other career opportunities, and money. To explore the last of these, we can compare the hourly pay that Pros received in their new destinations with the prevailing pay for the same role in their home regions during the same time periods. However, for roughly a quarter of Pros, there were not enough shifts available in their home regions to make this comparison. In other words, a quarter of the workers who migrated may have done so simply to find more work in their chosen professions.

For the remaining three quarters of migrating workers, the analysis is more straightforward. If the difference in pay were a major motivator for migration, then this analysis would likely find a substantial gap between the pay earned in destination regions and the prevailing pay in home regions. However, this has not been the case among Instawork Pros since 2021, as the following chart shows:

23 Mar 2022 rate difference histogram for migration

On average, Instawork Pros actually receive lower pay in their destinations than the prevailing pay for the same role in their home regions, though the average difference is still fairly close to zero. This result suggests that hourly workers are willing to give up a certain amount of pay in order to work in their chosen locations. Workers attach substantial value to flexibility, and pay for flexible work may be more of an effect than a cause of migration.

Realtime Statistics

These metrics, derived from data aggregated across the Instawork platform, compare the two weeks starting 3/10/2022 to the previous two weeks. To control for the overall growth of the Instawork marketplace, only shifts involving businesses that booked shifts in both periods are included:

  • $0.08 drop in hourly pay
  • 0.6% point drop in share of short-notice shifts
  • 0.2 hours rise in hours per existing worker

To receive future report briefings or data insights from our Economic Research team, please subscribe below.