Right to Work States Hold 2:1 Job-Growth Advantage Over Forced Union States

By Stan Greer | March 14, 2018 | 2:12pm EDT
Map of U.S. "Right to Work" states as of 2012 (Screenshot)

At the end of last month, the U.S. Labor Department issued new and revised data regarding the number of civilian household jobs (a broad measure that includes the self-employed and contractors as well as workers on employer payrolls) in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  In the aggregate, the data show household employment growth of under 6 percent from 2007 through 2017.

But some states fared far better than others. 

The 22 states that already had Right to Work laws prohibiting forced union dues and fees on the books back in 2007 enjoyed overall household employment growth of 8.8 percent over the next year.  Meanwhile, aggregate employment growth in the 22 states that had still not adopted Right to Work legislation as of the end of last year grew by just 4.2 percent, or less than half the Right to Work average.

(Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri passed Right to Work laws between 2012 and 2017.  They are excluded from the analysis above.)

Six states suffered employment losses of at least 1.5 percent from 2007 to 2017.  Of these, five are non-Right to Work states, and one became Right to Work only in 2016.  Meanwhile, seven of the top nine states for 10-year employment growth are Right to Work states.

In addition to being correlated with faster job growth, Right to Work is also correlated with higher real disposable incomes.

U.S. Commerce Department data, adjusted for interstate differences in the cost of living according to an index calculated by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC), a state government agency, show that the average disposable income per capita in Right to Work states in 2016 (the most recent year for which annual data are currently available) was $42,356.

That’s $2,229 higher than the average for forced-unionism states.  For two three-person households, one located in a Right to Work state and one located in a forced-unionism state, that comes to a Right to Work advantage of nearly $6,700 in real disposable income.

Six of the seven states with the highest cost of living-adjusted disposable incomes per capita are Right to Work.  But eight of the 10 states with the lowest cost of living-adjusted disposable incomes are forced-unionism.

The ample evidence linking forced unionism to diminished growth in jobs and lower real, spendable incomes is one reason prompting more and more Americans to get involved in efforts to pass Right to Work measures in their states.  


But despite lopsided public support for Right to Work laws, which has been confirmed by six decades of scientific polling, and despite all the evidence of their economic benefits, passing a state prohibition on forced union dues normally requires a long and difficult fight.

It’s not hard to understand why.

Drawing on disclosure forms private-sector union officials are required to file with the federal government as well as other sources, the National Institute for Labor Relations Research has estimated that Big Labor rakes in a total of roughly $14 billion a year in mostly compulsory dues, fees and assessments.

Enacting a Right to Work law requires persuading elected officials that, despite the ample resources available to the union political machine, it is in their best interest to stand up to it. 

Thanks to intensified local grass-roots activism as well as persistent, effective mobilization efforts by National Right to Work Committee staffers and members, freedom-loving citizens’ hopes are rising that new Right to Work laws can be enacted in states like Montana, New Mexico, Delaware, Maine, and New Hampshire over the course of the next few years.  

But Right to Work supporters will also have to fight hard to defend some of their recent gains.  In Missouri, for example, a Big Labor-instigated ballot measure to wipe off the books the Right to Work law adopted by state lawmakers just last year will come before voters this year on a date that has yet to be determined at this writing.

Stan Greer is Senior Research Associate for the National Institute for Labor Relations Research.


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