Politics & Policy

Blue-State Employment Blues

As long as the Red states let Americans keep more of what they earn, jobs will unevenly flow their way.

Bears and partisans are exuberant about the August employment report, which recorded a loss of 4,000 jobs in a labor market that employs 138 million. Employment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was “essentially unchanged,” with losses concentrated in the manufacturing (-46,000) and government (-28,000) sectors. This was no surprise: Manufacturing has contracted in August in eight of the last ten years, dating back to the Clinton era.

Employment is a broad economic indicator, and last Friday’s less-than-stellar report deserves attention. But another monthly BLS report on regional and state employment offers a view of the jobs market through an alternative lens. In particular, this report allows one to compare employment growth between the so-called Blue and Red states.

Political pundits identify 18 bona-fide Blue states, which backed Democrats Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, and 29 clear-cut Red states, which supported Republican President George W. Bush both times out. Blue states are said to be “liberal,” and Red states “conservative.” But there might be another reason to term certain states “blue”: weak employment growth in a period of expansion.

Total Blue-state employment growth has been only 3.3 percent during the current expansion, which began in November 2001, compared with the U.S. rate of 5.5 percent. Meanwhile, total Red-state employment growth has been 7.5 percent, more than double that of the Blue states.

In baseball terms, one might say the Blue team is hitting only 5-for-13 for a mere .277 average, while the Red team is slugging 18-for-29 for a league-leading .621.

Here’s a closer look at the stats:

Job growth has trailed the U.S. average in 13 Blue states. California, the largest Blue-state labor market, fell behind by the narrow margin of less than a half-percent, while growth has been slower in Rhode Island (5%), Minnesota (4.1%), Wisconsin (3.1%), New York (2.8%),  New Jersey (2.7%), Pennsylvania (2.7%), Vermont (2.3%), Maine (2.1%),  Connecticut (1.5%), Illinois (1.1%), Massachusetts (-0.2%), and  Michigan (-5%). The job losses in Michigan and Massachusetts have been the most severe, falling below 2001 levels.

Regionally speaking, this blue-streak continues. The Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, and New England regions, all predominantly Blue, have trailed the U.S. jobs-growth average. The only Blue region to beat the average has been the West, fueled by above-average jobs gains in Hawaii (15.2%), Washington (9.5%), and Oregon (9%). Two other Blue states — Delaware (5.8%) and Maryland (6.1%) — also have bested the U.S. average.

Now for the Red team:

Of 29 certified Red states, a full 18 have topped the U.S. jobs-growth rate. And here an interesting trend appears: Red states with no income taxes — Nevada (25.7%), Wyoming (15.2%), Florida (13.9%), Alaska (10.2%), Texas (9.1%), South Dakota (8.3%), and Tennessee (5.5%) — have all witnessed above-average job growth.

Not surprisingly, three of four Red regions have led the U.S. in job growth: Red states in the West have expanded 15.9 percent followed by the Plains (7.7%) and the Southeast (7.5%). The only Red region to trail the U.S. jobs-growth average has been the Midwest (1%).

This trend is not new. It has merely been overlooked by the mainstream media. Labor is colorblind in the political context of Red and Blue states. And as long as the Red states let Americans keep more of what they earn, jobs will unevenly flow their way.



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