Right to Work, by the Numbers: Part 6

Loss of Employment in Manufacturing before and during the Great Recession

The following chart shows the loss of manufacturing jobs, by state, in the decade between 1996 to 2005. The right-to-work state are indicated in boldface type.

States with a Loss of More than 20 Percent of Their Employment in Manufacturing:

Alabama     74,900    
Colorado   42,500
Connecticut   52,000
Delaware   10,300
Illinois 224,000
Maine   20,800
Maryland   37,400
Massachusetts 109,600
Michigan 210,000    
Mississippi     57,400
New Hampshire   24,200
New Jersey 104,800
New York 222,000
North Carolina   228,000    
Ohio 216,000
Oklahoma     35,000    
Pennsylvania 199,600
Rhode Island   19,800
South Carolina     77,900    
Virginia     79,400    
Washington 102,400
West Virginia   16,300

This chart would seem to support the value of right-to-work since only six of the 22 worst-performing states are right-to-work states, and among those six, Oklahoma became a right-to-work state only halfway through the period being tracked.

But before latching on to such conclusions, readers should consider several factors. First, during this time period, excluding Oklahoma, 28 of the 49 states, or almost 60%, were pro-Labor. Second, on the whole, pro-labor states have had substantially higher employment in manufacturing than right-to-work states have had, and that difference widens the farther back one goes. So the pro-Labor have simply had more jobs to lose, and most of those jobs have simply been eliminated. If they had been transferred to right-to-work states, those right-to-work states would be showing substantial increases in manufacturing employment, rather than the substantial decreases shown in the preceding and the following charts. Lastly, and perhaps paradoxically, five of the 16 pro-labor states on this list of those with the highest percentage of manufacturing jobs lost between 1996 and 2005 either have low overall populations or had low employment in manufacturing to begin with.

The next chart, which includes states that lost between 15% and 20% of their manufacturing jobs between 1996 and 2005. Again, the right-to-work states are indicated in boldface type.

States with a Loss of 15% to 20% of Their Employment in Manufacturing:

Arizona     37,300  
Arkansas     41,500  
California 353,700
Florida     72,600  
Georgia   107,600  
Louisiana     36,900  
Minnesota   60,500
Missouri   65,500
Montana     3,500
New Mexico     7,900
Tennessee     92,900  
Texas   201,100  
Wisconsin 104,500

Note that in this second group of states, all of which lost one out of every five or six manufacturing jobs during this period and therefore did only marginally better than the states in the first list, seven of the 13 states are right-to-work states.

In fact, all of the right-to-work states with the highest employment in manufacturing—Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina—are on these two lists.

The following chart shows the remaining manufacturing jobs, by state, in 2008, or at the beginning of the Great Recession:

State Manufacturing. Employment
California 1,425,300
Texas      924,400
Ohio    739,000
Illinois    657,400
Pennsylvania    643,800
Michigan    573,600
New York    531,900
Indiana    521,200
North Carolina      518,000
Wisconsin    492,900
Florida    371,100
Tennessee      361,000
Minnesota    335,600
Washington    291,200
New Jersey    298,800
Massachusetts    286,400
Missouri    289,100
Alabama      284,300
Virginia      264,800
Kentucky    245,100
South Carolina      242,400
Iowa      227,400
Oregon    195,100
Connecticut    187,300
Kansas      187,200
Arizona      173,100
Mississippi      159,700
Louisiana      152,800
Colorado    144,100
Utah      125,900
Maryland    128,100
Nebraska      101,400
New Hampshire      75,900
Idaho        63,000
Maine      58,800
West Virginia      56,500
Nevada        48,200
Rhode Island      47,900
South Dakota        42,700
Vermont      35,100
New Mexico      35,100
Delaware      31,700
North Dakota        26,400
Montana      20,000
Hawaii      14,900
Alaska      13,000
Wyoming        10,000

You can compare that list to the following list of the 20 states that lost the most manufacturing jobs between 2008 and 2009, as the Great Recession had its most immediate and most acute impact. Again, the right-to-work states are indicated in boldface.

Ohio 127,000
California 123,400
Michigan 108,900
Illinois   83,500
Indiana   80,800
Texas     80,200  
Pennsylvania   73,100
North Carolina     70,000  
Wisconsin   57,800
Georgia     52,400  
New York   44,400
Florida     42,300  
Minnesota   39,000
Tennessee     38,500  
Alabama     35,400  
Kentucky   33,100
Iowa     30,500  
South Carolina     29,900  
Oregon   29,800
Virginia     28,800  

Right-to-work proponents will undoubtedly rush to point out that the five states with the highest numbers of manufacturing jobs lost were all pro-labor states.

But I think that it is worth noting that Texas, which is usually touted by right-to-work proponents as a dynamo of manufacturing jobs impervious to the effects of the Great Recession, lost only marginally fewer jobs than Illinois and Indiana—and, Governor Perry’s attempts to lure California factories to Texas notwithstanding, Texas did proportionately little better than California in retaining or adding manufacturing jobs. (As a footnote, perhaps voters in Indiana should have considered more pointedly if that difference of 600 jobs lost in manufacturing warranted adopting right-to-work legislation, especially since in 2008 Indiana’s population was 26% of that of Texas, but the state had 56% of the number of jobs in manufacturing that Texas had.)

More notably, in 2008, there were six right-to-work states in the top twenty states by manufacturing employment, and there were nine right-to-work states in the list of the states that lost the highest number of manufacturing jobs between 2008 and 2009.

But, again, very broadly, if one wishes to measure the impact of right-to-work legislation on retaining and creating jobs in manufacturing, looking the loss of manufacturing by percentage is more helpful than measuring it by the simple number of jobs lost. The clear pattern is that states that have had more jobs in manufacturing have simply had more jobs to lose, regardless of whether they have been pro-union or right-to-work states.

In fact, I will try to show in the next several posts in this series that the loss of manufacturing jobs has more to do with automation than with anything else, and it now may be much more indicative of the health of manufacturing in given states to consider the value of manufacturing output rather than the employment in manufacturing.


Previous posts in this series have included:

Part 1: Population Growth and Movement: https://academeblog.org/2013/04/03/2666/

Part 2: Immigration: https://academeblog.org/2013/04/21/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-2/

Part 3: Unemployment Rates, by State: https://academeblog.org/2013/04/30/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-3/

Part 4: Historic Highs and Lows in Unemployment, by State: https://academeblog.org/2013/05/05/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-4/

Part 5: Employment in Manufacturing: https://academeblog.org/2013/05/10/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-5/

My other posts on “right to work” have included:

“Right to Work Isn’t Going Away, at Least for the Moment”: https://academeblog.org/2012/09/07/right-to-work-isnt-going-away-at-least-for-the-moment/

“Right to Work Is an Insult to Intelligence”: https://academeblog.org/2012/12/11/right-to-work-is-an-insult-to-intelligence/

“Right to Work Is an Insult to Intelligence, Addendum”: https://academeblog.org/2012/12/12/right-to-work-is-an-insult-to-intelligence-addendum/

“Right to Work Introduced in the Ohio House”: https://academeblog.org/2013/05/01/right-to-work-bills-introduced-in-ohio-house/

11 thoughts on “Right to Work, by the Numbers: Part 6

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  5. Pingback: “Right to Work,” by the Numbers: Part 10: Unemployment Rates in August 2015 | The Academe Blog

  6. Pingback: “Right to Work,” by the Numbers: Part 11: Adult Obesity Rates | The Academe Blog

  7. Pingback: “Right to Work” by the Numbers: Part 12: Unemployment Rates in Mid-December 2015 | The Academe Blog

  8. Pingback: “Right to Work,” by the Numbers: Part 13: Poverty Rates in 2014 | The Academe Blog

  9. Pingback: “Right to Work,” by the Numbers: Part 15 | ACADEME BLOG

  10. Pingback: “Right to Work,” By the Numbers: Part 14 | Ohio Labor

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