The economic evidence is quite clear that state right-to-work (RtW) laws do not reduce wages, though a few seem desperate to convince us otherwise. In fact, RtW has proven to be an unambiguous economic tonic for states that have enacted such laws (though perhaps not for union lobbyists). Note that this has nothing to do with comparisons of nominal wage levels in RtW vs. non-RtW states, as organizations like the left-wing Economic Policy Institute (EPI) are wont to make. Adjusting for the cost of living often shows a different result. Either way, the recency of RTW laws in many states means that those differences tend to be legacy effects and are not useful as a gauge of the incremental impact of RtW laws.
It’s no coincidence that RtW laws have gained favor as a mechanism for encouraging economic growth in historically low-wage states. The efforts have been largely successful. Jeffrey Eisenach reported the following findings in 2015:
- “RTW laws directly affect economic performance through their impact on business location decisions, especially in heavily unionized industries such as manufacturing. Other things being equal, businesses are more likely to locate in states with RTW laws. There is also evidence that RTW laws have a direct, positive effect on employment, output, and personal income.
- RTW laws do not lead to lower average wages in either unionized or non-unionized industries. There is some evidence that the long-run effect of RTW laws is to raise wage rates as a result of increased productivity.
- RTW laws also affect economic performance indirectly through lower rates of union density. The weight of the evidence indicates that lower union density is associated with higher levels of employment, increased investment and R&D spending, and increased innovation.”
Mark Mix reports similar evidence, including more rapid employment growth and larger wage gains in RtW states. And James Sherk addresses some of the myths surrounding RtW, including the misleading narrative that RtW reduces wages and that RtW is unpopular among the American public. Indeed, Sherk quotes a Gallup poll finding that Americans support right-to-work laws by more than a 3 to 1 margin, though it’s not clear how well the average American understands the issue.
A disturbing aspect of the opposition to RtW is an effort to disparage the business community by characterizing private enterprise as exploitative. I leave you with some wisdom from Bran Caplan on that point (HT: Don Boudreaux):
“Businesses produce and deliver virtually all of the wonderful, affordable products that we enjoy. Contrary to millennia of economic illiterates, businesses rarely do so by ‘exploiting’ their workers. Instead, businesses provide gentle but much-needed leadership. Left to our own economic devices, most of us are virtually useless; we don’t know how to produce much, and we don’t know how to find customers. Businesspeople solve these problems: They recruit workers, organize them to vastly raise their productivity, then put these products in the hands of customers all over the world. Yes, they’re largely in it for the money; but – unlike every government on Earth – business rarely puts a gun to your head. Businesses assemble teams of volunteers to meet the needs of willing consumers – and succeed wildly.” (emphasis Caplan’s)