State Comparisons: Right to Work and Beyond

A stunningly biased article by AP writer Jeff Karoub on the front page of today’s Providence Journal likely captures the attitude of most in the Rhode Island media on the issue of right-to-work legislation, as enacted into law in Michigan, yesterday:

The GOP-dominated House ignored Democrats’ pleas to delay the final passage and instead approved two bills with the same ruthless efficiency that the Senate showed last week. One measure dealt with private-sector workers, the other with government employees. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed them both within hours, calling them “pro-worker and pro-Michigan.”

Yes, that plea-ignoring, ruthless GOP.  Not mentioned in the article, in the paper, or in any mainstream RI media that I’ve seen was reportage of a unionist mob tearing down a large tent set up by Americans for Prosperity, while bystanders plead with them to stop because people were inside, and physically attacking a conservative commentator, after a Democrat legislator promised that “there will be blood.”

The Projo‘s reporters are a unionized subset of the AFL-CIO, after all.  And “right to work” means that employees can no longer be required to join unions (or pay an equivalent to union dues) in order to hold a particular job.

So, it wasn’t surprising that when I tweeted to ask whether any RI media had noted events in MI, former Providence Journal reporter and current Rhode Island Public Radio commentator Scott MacKay tweeted back: “Has anyone noticed that 7 of the 10 poorest states in U.S. are RTW states?”

At least that I’ve seen, nobody has claimed that right-to-work legislation is such a powerful force, of itself, as to overwhelm every other factor that affects a state’s economy.  Rich states tend to be rich based on advantages such as resources and location, and poor states tend to be poor for lack thereof.  Residents of each have to set policy to achieve the best economy that they can, under their circumstances.

In that regard, it’s striking that seven of the nine states that have exceeded their peak employment prior to the Great Recession are right-to-work states, as illustrated in this chart:

Rhode Island October 2012 Employment Percentage of Pre-Crisis Peak by State

One of the two non-right-to-work states on the top of the list is Alaska, which combines a relatively sparse population with an enviably high concentration of natural resources.

All of the bottom three states by this measure — Michigan, Rhode Island, and Indiana — began 2012 as non-right-to-work states.  Of them, only Rhode Island will end 2012 as one.

Given that these sorts of changes are in the air on the conservative end, while more-restrictive “sustainable development” efforts are working their way through state governments on the progressive end, it’s not but so surprising that the union-and-progressive-friendly Obama Administration has ended the IRS service of publishing data on taxpayers’ migration from one state to another, including income information.  That data, collected directly from tax returns and therefore unusually accurate and clear, is being supplanted by a relatively new set of less-reliable surveys from the U.S. Census.

The government has given no reason for the change, but looking at policy shifts across the nation, we can get some sense of them.  And we’re definitely going to feel the reasons — especially in Rhode Island.

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