Labor and Employment

CSG Midwest
Through the summer of 2014, the news about rural employment was not good. While the U.S. economy as a whole was recovering from the recession, the number of people employed in rural areas remained weak, lagging more than 3 percent behind totals for 2007. And between the second quarters of 2010 and 2014, rural employment had grown only by 1.1 percent (compared to 5 percent in urban areas).
Though the number of people unemployed in rural areas was decreasing, that was due in part to factors such as outmigration and aging populations. Actual jobs had declined or stayed the same in the majority of non-metropolitan counties from 2000 through most of 2014.
But there has been a turnaround of late, especially in many of the Midwest’s rural counties. Over the past year, the rate of job gains in rural America, 1.2 percent, has come close to meeting those in urban counties, 1.8 percent.

 According to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, median household income remains below pre-recession levels in 37 states, when adjusted for inflation. In 2007, median household income was $57,357 (in 2014 dollars) - $3,700 more than in 2014. State median household incomes ranged from a low of $35,521 in Mississippi to $76,165 in Maryland in 2014.

State policymakers hear frequently from employers that they cannot find skilled workers for open positions. Many of these positions are middle-skill jobs that require some form of postsecondary training, but not a bachelor’s degree. This article discusses state strategies to close skill gaps and meet employer skill needs.

The Council of State Governments released a report last week that outlines recommendations for state-level policies that help ensure students are prepared for postsecondary education and the workforce. The report, "A Framework for State Policymakers: Developing Pathways to Ensure a Skilled Workforce for State Prosperity," is the brainchild of CSG's 2014 national leaders who sought to help states prepare today's students for the jobs of tomorrow. Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who served as CSG's 2014 national chair, led the State Pathways to Prosperity initiative, a multi-year effort to identify obstacles—and alternative pathways—to prosperity for many Americans.

Last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed two bills: one that would have set up a required quarterly schedule for the state to make payments into its public pension fund and another that would have required making a $300 million lump payment into the fund for fiscal year 2016. Democrats argued that these measures were necessary to put the state’s pension fund on the right fiscal track. According to the Wall Street Journal, New Jersey’s pension system serves 773,000 current and retired state workers and is facing a funding shortfall of $37 billion. It also contributes to its fund at one of the lowest levels among all 50 states.

While occupations in the science, technology, engineering and math—or STEM—fields may not make up a huge portion of total jobs, those positions are growing quickly. STEM jobs are a bigger part of the workforce in some states or localities than in others. In addition, not all STEM positions are created equal. Wages for STEM positions can depend heavily on which industry they are in or where they are located.

While occupations in the science, technology, engineering and math—or STEM—fields may not make up a huge portion of total jobs, those positions are growing quickly. STEM jobs are a bigger part of the workforce in some states or localities than in others. In addition, not all STEM positions are created equal. Wages for STEM positions can depend heavily on which industry they are in or where they are located.

While occupations in the science, technology, engineering and math—or STEM—fields may not make up a huge portion of total jobs, those positions are growing quickly. STEM jobs make up about 6.2 percent of all employment (8.3 million positions) and grew at a rate of just under 10 percent from May 2010 to May 2014 while total employment across all occupations grew by 6 percent over the same period. In Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington state, at least 9 percent of total employment falls under a STEM category. That’s compared to just 3 percent of jobs in Mississippi and Nevada.  

Although most states establish their own minimum wages legislatively, federal minimum wage law supersedes state law. That means if the minimum wage established by a state is higher than the federal rate, the state rate applies. If a state’s minimum rate is lower than the federal rate, the federal rate applies. The federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour since 2009. As of August 1, 2015:

Raising the minimum wage to $15 is a hot topic in D.C. and in state capitols across the country. The federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour since 2009, but 29 states have passed their own minimum wage laws that set the rate higher than the federal rate, ranging from $7.50 in Arkansas, Maine and New Mexico to $9.25 in Oregon and $9.47 in Washington.

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