As of last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 30.1% of American adults aged 25 and up had at least a bachelor’s degree education. Census data also show that states with Right to Work laws on the books prohibiting forced union dues and fees as a condition of employment have done a superior job over the years at creating economic opportunities for the college-educated. (See the two links below for more information.)
But what about the rest of working-age Americans? Of the 213.7 million U.S. citizens and other residents who are at least 25, roughly 57% are high school graduates, but do not hold a four-year college degree. Census data show that the net migration of such “middle educated” people out of forced-unionism states and into Right to Work states is even greater than the parallel net migration of the college-educated fleeing Big Labor strongholds.
State-by-state data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) for 2005 (the earliest year for which such figures are available) and 2014 show that, over that nine-year period, eight of the nine states with the greatest percentage gains in middle-educated population (Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina and Texas) have Right to Work laws on the books. The sole exception is forced-unionism Alaska.
But among the 17 states with the smallest gains in middle-educated residents aged 25+, 14 (Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) still lacked Right to Work protections as of 2014. One other slow-growth state (Michigan) became Right to Work only in 2013. And only two (Iowa and Kansas) have longstanding Right to Work laws.
In the aggregate, the middle-educated adult population of the 22 states that continuously had Right to Work laws from 2005 to 2014 grew by 18.4%, or nearly double the 9.4% average for forced-unionism states.
Had forced-unionism states’ middle-educated adult population gain from 2005 to 2014 been equal to the national average, by last year they would have had roughly 1.85 million more residents with a high school diploma, but no bachelor’s degree. That’s more than double forced-unionism states’ shortfall of four-year college graduates resulting from slow growth over the same period.
It makes perfect economic sense that Americans of diverse educational backgrounds would prefer to live in Right to Work states when they can. Nonpartisan indices measuring relative living costs in the 50 states, calculated and published by government agencies such as the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center and independent private groups, show that on average it is substantially more expensive to live in a forced-unionism state than in a Right to Work state.
And once they are adjusted for cost-of-living differences, personal income data from the U.S. Commerce Department show that, on average, residents of Right to Work states enjoy a higher standard of living than residents of forced-unionism states. It’s not surprising that people would prefer to live where they can provide better for their families.
Economic theorists like Raymond Fisman of the Columbia School of Business and Enrico Moretti of Berkeley sometimes claim that masses of ordinary Americans would benefit by relocating to high-cost forced-unionism strongholds on the East and West Coasts and living off, in Fisman’s words, the “crumbs” of the “idea creators . . . who design iPhones and develop new drugs.”
But Census data show neither the middle-educated nor the college-educated are willing to stake their futures on the elitist dreams of the Fismans and the Morettis. And it’s reasonable to assume that average Americans are best qualified to judge what’s good for them and their families.