Recently, the Washington Examiner interviewed Indiana Governor Mike Pence. It ran the subsequent story under a banner headline: “Indiana’s Right to Work law has sparked economic rebirth for the Midwest.”
I’d never heard of the newspaper, so I consulted Dr. Google, and discovered (surprise!) that it is owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz who also owns the influential conservative opinion magazine The Weekly Standard. In other words, the paper has a very definite point of view.
But…”economic rebirth”? Sparked by Right to Work?
It is almost impossible to find credible research on the effect of Right to Work laws. Most researchers–even those who are not ideological–have difficulty controlling for the multiple factors that affect a state’s economy. The little sound academic research that does exist suggests the real impact of the laws–for good or ill– is not nearly as dramatic as the heated debate might suggest.
For example, Michigan State University researchers Dale Belman, Richard Block and Karen Roberts examined state economies from 1998 through 2000 and concluded in 2009 that right-to-work laws “seem to have no effect on economic activity.”
In fact, they found that unions in general “have little impact, despite conventional wisdom.”
The Economic Policy Institute is a left-leaning, but generally credible and unbiased research resource. In a 2011 study, the Institute compared Right to Work states to those without that law.
- In 2009, the unemployment rate was 1.0 percentage points lower in RTW states than states without the legislation. In RTW states, it was 8.6%, In other states it was 9.6%.
- Wages in right-to-work states are 3.2% lower than those in non-RTW states, after controlling for a full complement of individual demographic and socioeconomic variables as well as state macroeconomic indicators. Using the average wage in non-RTW states as the base ($22.11), the average full-time, full-year worker in an RTW state makes about $1,500 less annually than a similar worker in a non-RTW state. The study goes on to say “How much of this difference can be attributed to RTW status itself? There is an inherent “endogeneity” problem in any attempt to answer that question, namely that RTW and non-RTW states differ on a wide variety of measures that are also related to compensation, making it difficult to isolate the impact of RTW status.”
- The rate of employer-sponsored health insurance (ESI) is 2.6 percentage points lower in RTW states compared with non-RTW states, after controlling for individual, job, and state-level characteristics. If workers in non-RTW states were to receive ESI at this lower rate, 2 million fewer workers nationally would be covered.
- The rate of employer-sponsored pensions is 4.8 percentage points lower in RTW states, using the full complement of control variables in [the study’s] regression model. If workers in non-RTW states were to receive pensions at this lower rate, 3.8 million fewer workers nationally would have pensions.
You’d never guess any of that from the glowing report in the Washington Examiner.
In our current media environment, however, data and verification–let alone nuance and complexity–are less important than creating a reality that will appeal to the audience being targeted.
Remember the old song lyric, “a good man is hard to find”? Try looking for a good newspaper these days.