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The labor force participation rate has been on the decline for more than a decade and the rate of decline has increased since the Great Recession began in December 2007. The likelihood of someone not participating in the labor force, as well as the reason for not participating, often depends on a person’s age. Participation rates vary significantly across states and regions, with a range of nearly 20 percentage points between the lowest and highest states.

Voters decided 186 ballot propositions in 39 states in 2012, approving 63 percent of them. The electorate swung to the left on some issues, with potential breakthrough victories for advocates of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington, and same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington. Other high-profile issues included taxes, the death penalty and illegal immigration.
 

Almost every state in every region experienced increased poverty since The Great Recession. The only exceptions were North Dakota – where the mining boom has taken the state by storm – and the Southern states of Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma, where one might argue poverty couldn’t get much worse. Children continue to experience higher rates of poverty than the general population and seniors over 65 are considerably less likely to be poor. Regionally, the East and Midwest had lower poverty rates that the South and West.

The number of employees in state and local governments has been declining since 2008 and represents the largest contraction of public employment in more than 30 years. The loss of jobs in the public sector would have been much more accelerated had it not been for a marked increase in federal aid—primarily the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which helped preserve a significant number of state and local jobs for several years. Those funds are now gone and, while private sector employment has been recovering slowly, many state and local governments continue to cut the number of people they employ.

Many states have exhausted their unemployment trust funds—the funds from which states pay unemployment benefits—due to high unemployment rates and the extended length of time many people have been without work. More than half of states have borrowed from the federal government to cover costs, which may impact future fiscal stability.

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State and federal prison populations and imprisonment rates have declined for two straight years, after increasing or remaining stable from 2000 to 2009. From 2010 to 2011, 26 states saw incarcerated populations increase, while 22 states experienced decreases and two remained about the same.

Until the 2010-2011 school year, it was difficult to compare a basic measure of educational attainment – the high school graduation rate – across states because every state measured and reported that rate a little differently. In 2005, however, the nation’s governors got together and adopted a uniform way to report graduation rates: the percentage of first-time ninth-graders who earn a diploma in four years. 2010-2011 was the first school year for which (nearly) every state began to report this new rate.