College Graduates and High School-‘Only’ Graduates Alike Are Flocking to Right to Work States


States Perform


Intercensal Estimates of the Resident Population by Sex and Age 

Forget Red vs. Blue — It’s Slave States vs. Free States in 2012

Young adults who enter the workforce right after they graduate from high school, as well as those who go on to receive a bachelor's degree from a college or university, prefer to live in Right to Work states when they can because living costs are lower and real incomes are higher.


Federal data on the American workforce and employment and unemployment rates show that, even over the course of the most severe recession in decades and three years of pathetically anemic “recovery,†employer demand for college-educated employees has continued to rise at a surprisingly rapid clip.

From 2000 to 2011, the total population of the U.S., aged 25 and over, grew by 13.5%, but the number of people in that age bracket with at least a bachelor’s degree grew by 32.5%.  (This is possible because the number of adults who lack a high school education actually shrank by a substantial amount.)

And in September 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force participation rate for civilians aged 25 or over with one or more higher-education degrees was 76.0% (not seasonally adjusted), only a little lower than it was before the recession started. That same month, the nationwide unemployment rate for the labor pool of 48.6 million college-educated adults 25 or over was just 4.0%, or barely more than half the average for the workforce as a whole.

The bottom-line significance of these data is that employers across the country typically have more difficulty finding a qualified college-educated person to fill a position than a college-educated person has finding a job. Of course, not everyone who holds a bachelor’s degree is doing well economically. But generally speaking there is still a “seller’s market†for college-educator labor in America today.

Furthermore, many businesses that sustain large numbers of jobs for people with associate’s degrees, high school diplomas, or less education require a substantial number of college-educated people to operate smoothly. Therefore, the rate at which a state is gaining college-educated people, relative to the national average, is in itself a good indication of how successful the state is in creating and retaining good jobs.

Using U.S. Census data available in the first three links above, it is possible to derive close estimates for the total college-educated adult populations of each of the 50 states in 2000 and 2011. The 10 states with the greatest percentage increases over this period (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia) are located in the Southeastern, Southwestern, and Rocky Mountain regions of America. And they are culturally as well as regionally diverse.

What these states have inc common is that they all have on the books Right to Work laws that make it illegal to force employees to join or pay dues or fees to an unwanted union as a condition of employment.

On the other hand, states without Right to Work protections for employees dominate the ranks of the laggards in increasing their college-educated populations. Nine (Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island) of the 11 worst performers are forced-unionism states. The only Right to Work states in the bottom 11 are Kansas and Louisiana. Of course, Louisiana, which lost large numbers of college-educated and other residents after being devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, is a special case.

Employees of all kinds prefer to live in Right to Work states when the can because living costs are lower and real incomes are higher, as the National Institute for Labor Relations Research has discussed in a number of other blog posts and fact sheets.

In fact, Census data actually show Right to Work states enjoyed a wider percentage-point advantage relative to forced-unionism states in 2000-2011 population growth for adults with high school degrees only (24.3% vs. 11.3%) than in growth for adults with college degrees (39.3% vs. 28.9%).

Incredibly, a few wild-eyed apologists for compulsory unionism such as Salon contributor Michael Lind (see the fourth link above) actually see the huge ongoing out-migration of less-educated workers out of forced-unionism states as proof that Right to Work laws facilitate the creation only of low-paying jobs! Somehow, Lind and his ilk manage to ignore the glaring fact that workers with one or more higher-education degrees are also leaving forced-unionism states in droves.