Opportunities For the ‘Middle-Educated’ and the College-Educated   

NILRR Fact Sheet — College-Educated and ‘Middle-Educated’ Employee web NILRR Fact Sheet -- College-Educated and 'Middle-Educated' Employee web_Page_1Census Bureau Data Show That Non-Holders, Holders of Bachelor’s Degrees Are Flocking to Right to Work States

By Stan Greer

As a number of workforce analysts have noted, one way in which Americans in their teens and their twenties have attempted to shield themselves from the impact of the Great Recession and the extraordinarily bleak employment climate that has followed it is by racking up more educational credentials than they might otherwise have done.

Of course, the trend towards a more educated workforce is longstanding.  The share of American workers who do not have a bachelor’s degree has been declining for decades, and will surely continue to do so.  But the day when the college-educated constitute the majority of all employees is still a long way off, and may never arrive at all.

Consequently, a genuine return to national prosperity must include rising employment opportunities and higher pay for the tens of millions of working-age Americans who have a high school education and perhaps some college or an associate’s degree, but not a bachelor’s degree.

Nationwide Employment Rate For ‘Middle-Educated’ Americans Has Plummeted in Recent Years

Unfortunately, a substantial share of “middle-educated” Americans (i.e., people who have at least a high school degree, but no four-year college degree) in their working years are not participating in the economic recovery that officially began in 2009.

From 2007 to 2013, the nationwide number of employed college-educated people, aged 25 to 64, rose by 9.5%, nearly as much as the group’s total population growth of 10.0%.  But over the same period, the number of employed 25-64 year-olds with a high school degree, but no bachelor’s degree, fell by 1.7%, even as the group’s aggregate population rose by 2.7%.[1]

Many states endured “middle-educated” employment declines far more severe than the national average.  The dozen with the steepest percentage drops of all – Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont – are geographically and politically diverse.

What these 12 states all had in common, prior to the spring of 2013, when Michigan’s ban on forced union dues and fees first took effect, was the lack of a Right to Work statute or constitutional provision protecting employees from termination for refusal to join or bankroll an unwanted union.  Other than in Michigan, employees in all of these states are still without Right to Work protections today.

Top Nine States For Working-Age, ‘Middle-Educated’ Population Growth All Bar Forced Union Dues

In the 22 states that had Right to Work laws on the books throughout the 2007-2013 period, the number of “middle-educated” people in their working years holding jobs increased by 0.9%, even as it fell by 3.1% in the 26 states where forced union dues were permissible for the whole time.

It’s not so surprising, consequently, that the top nine states for percentage growth in working-age, “middle-educated” population from 2007 to 2013 – Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming – all have Right to Work laws.

A wide array of evidence indicates “middle-educated” employees and their families, along with millions of other Americans of diverse educational backgrounds and ages, are flocking to Right to Works states in order to raise their living standards, and such hopes are for the most part being realized.

For example, data from the Census Bureau’s building permits and population surveys show that there were, on average, 2.8 permits for construction of privately-owned, single-unit houses per 1000 residents in the 24 Right to Work states last year.  That’s more than double the average of 1.3 per 1000 residents in the 26 forced-unionism states.[2]

The correlation between Right to Work laws prohibiting forced union dues and privately-owned, single-unit housing authorizations is quite robust.

Fourteen of the 16 states with the most authorizations of such housing per capita are Right to Work states.  But 18 of the 19 bottom-ranking states lack Right to Work laws.

Census Bureau statistics regarding educational attainment, employment and housing clearly suggest that enactment of more state Right to Work laws represents an important part of the solution to the nationwide decline in job opportunities for “middle-educated” Americans seen in recent years.

Highly Educated Employees, Along With Other Employees, Benefit From Right to Work Laws

And the same indicators show that college-educated employees also benefit when Big Labor’s special privileges are curtailed.

In states that had Right to Work laws for the whole period, the number of college-educated people in their working years holding jobs increased by 12.0% from 2007 to 2013 – 3.6 percentage points more than in the 26 states where forced union dues were permissible throughout that time.  Over those same years, nine of the top 10 states for college-educated, working-age population growth were Right to Work states.

Since the late 20th Century, too many policymakers seeking to attract and retain more college-educated residents in their states have wasted their energy and countless millions of taxpayer dollars following the costly recommendations of academic “experts” in economic development, such as Dr. Richard Florida.  Dr. Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto, and his ilk contend that the needs of college-educated and non-college-educated employees differ radically.

Instead of trying to attract well-educated people with policies that keep their living costs down and thus raise their real incomes, Dr. Florida has claimed, states and localities should render themselves “cool” by pouring taxpayers’ money into bike paths, running and rollerblading trails, cultural funds, and other projects that supposedly appeal to the “creative class.”[3]

In reality, as the data cited above plainly show, the same pro-Right to Work policy that attracts employees with associates’ degrees or less education also attracts Dr. Florida’s “creative class.”  Policymakers can help all kinds of job seekers by revoking Big Labor’s license to get employees fired simply because they won’t pay dues or fees to a union.


Stan Greer is the National Institute for Labor Relations Research’s senior research associate.  He may reached by e-mail at stg@nrtw.org or by phone at 703-321-9606.   Nothing here is to be construed as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before Congress or any state legislature.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, 2007 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates (http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces.tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_07_1YR_S1501&prodType=table) and 2013 ACS 1-Year Estimates (http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_13_1YR_S1501&prodType=table).

[2] See “Permits by State – Annual” at http://www.census.gov/construction/bps/stateannual.html and “State Totals: Vintage 2013” at http://www.census.gov/popest/data/state/totals/2013/index.html on the Census Bureau web site.

[3] See Steven Malanga, “The Curse of the Creative Class,” City Journal (Manhattan Institute), Winter 2004.  Available at http://www.city-journal.org/html/14_1_the_curse.html on the City Journal web site.