Labor and Employment

Colorado, Montana, Ohio, Washington and Oregon have each announced increases to their 2012 minimum wages, according to CNN. The triggered increases range from 28 cents to 37 cents per hour. These four states and six others (AZ, FL, MO, NV, OR, and VT) have minimum wages that are linked to inflation (the consumer price index), which means the minimum wage is normally increased each year according to the Department of Labor.  In January 2011, seven of the ten trigger states increased their wages - the three exceptions being Florida, Missouri and Nevada.

The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show that state unemployment rates changed very little in August 2011, with all 45 states staying within 0.2 percentage points (+/-) of their July rate. A majority of states (45) recorded unemployment rates in August that were not appreciably different from those reported a year earlier. Nevada remained the state with the highest unemployment rate at 13.4 percent. The national rate stayed the same at 9.1 percent, but fell 0.5 percentage points over August 2010.

According to new data out today from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, state personal income growth slowed in the second quarter of 2011to 1.1 percent.  That's compared to an average growth rate of 2.1 percent in the first quarter. Growth rates ranged from a high of 2.2 percent in Nebraska and South Dakota to a low of 0.7 percent in both Washington and Georgia.

The Great Recession has had a far-reaching and prolonged impact on poverty rates and income across the country with some places – like Greenwood County, South Carolina – seeing their poverty rates double and median household income drop by nearly $12,000, according to the New York Times. From 2007 to 2010, poverty rates increased in every state except five. The same is true for median household income – all states but five experienced decreases.  In 2010, poverty rates ranged from a low of 6.6 percent in New Hampshire to a high of 22.7 percent in Mississippi.  Check out The State of Poverty 2010 to learn more. 

The president’s recently released deficit reduction plan includes a strategy to increase the solvency of state’s unemployment trust funds and to provide some fiscal relief for those states that have borrowed from the federal government to cover their unemployment insurance costs.

President Barack Obama on Sept. 8 addressed a joint session of Congress to roll out the American Jobs Act. In the wake of a still stagnant recovery, the bill includes a combination of tax breaks and new spending designed to give the economy a booster shot and hopefully put more people back to work.  If passed by Congress, the bill would provide more than $35 billion to state and local governments to retain or rehire teachers and public safety officials. The tax measures used to pay for the bill, however, may ultimately come back to bite the very state and local governments it is designed to support.

The Great Recession has had an unprecedented effect on state and local government employment and will continue to affect levels of employment in the coming years. John Lonski, chief economist for Moody's Capital Markets Research, told Reuters, “We are looking at the worst contraction of state and local government employment since 1981.” The loss of stimulus funds will exacerbate the downward trend in public employment, especially in education. 

A Michigan law that reduced the pay of current state workers to offset the state’s retiree health care costs has been ruled unconstitutional.

In July, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to require certain businesses to offer paid sick leave to their employees.  At the time, only Washington, D.C. and San Francisco had such laws.  Earlier this week, the Seattle City Council approved similar legislation, sending it to Mayor Mike McGinn for his approval, which is expected. 

U.S. Census Bureau figures released this week reveal that poverty levels were on the rise in 2010, with the percentage of Americans living in poverty at its highest point in 17 years.  Poverty rates range from a low of 6.6 percent in New Hampshire to a high of 22.7 percent in Mississippi.  Over the past 10 years the poverty rate increased in all but three states.