PERI study ranks work climates across US

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The Political Economy Research Institute this week released "Decent Work in America," a report that includes the first index ever to rank all 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of their climates for workers.

The report attracted widespread media coverage, including Reuters and Associated Press stories that appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Des Moines Register as well as television news reports in Tyler, Texas and Columbus, Georgia.

Economics faculty members James Heintz and Robert Pollin and research fellow Jeannette Wicks-Lim spent two years developing an index that would capture and compare the experience of workers in the U.S.

A major finding of the study is a consistent correspondence between the quality of a state''s environment for workers and its economic health. States ranking high on the list generally have faster economic growth and lower poverty rates, and conversely, states at the bottom of the list tend to have slower economic growth and higher poverty rates. This suggests that anti-poverty strategies focused on creating decent jobs is viable as well as desirable, a finding that is especially pertinent in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, whose impact was devastating on the poor in New Orleans.

Among the states at the top of the list are Delaware, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont, and Iowa, while Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Utah, South Carolina are ranked the lowest. Each state received a ranking on a scale of 1–100 in three categories - job opportunities, job quality and workplace fairness – which were then averaged out to determine the state''s total score. Delaware, at the top of the list, received a total score of 89 and Louisiana, at the bottom, received a total of 31.

In evaluating each category, the index looks at a number of quantitative factors:

Job Opportunities includes unemployment rates, and rates of "involuntary part-timers" – people who accept part-time jobs only because they can’t find full-time employment;

Job Quality includes figures on average wages in each state, adjusted for cost-of-living, and the proportion of workers who receive health and retirement benefits;

Workplace Fairness measures the proportion of low-income workers, who earn less than 50 percent of the national average wage, after adjusting for cost-of-living differences, and the degree of pay equity among men and women. This category also considers each state''s minimum wage, the degree to which collective bargaining is permitted in the public sector, and whether states have "right to work" provisions.

Pollin said, "There are many indexes that give a profile of a state''s business climate, but until now, there hasn''t been a comparable index of conditions for workers in each state. The WEI shows as that states that have a high WEI ranking provide an economic climate for business that is at least as attractive, if not more attractive, than states that are undesirable for workers."