State “jobs deficits” both a sign of and cause of slow recovery

Every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases updated data on the employment and unemployment situation facing each state. We, in turn, provide a quick analysis of these new data, a process which has for the most part consisted of finding new ways to highlight how truly dismal this recovery has been for virtually every state. And while the data on employment and unemployment trends present a mixed bag of late — with far too many states making negative progress towards economic recovery, one measure that gets far too little media attention is the state level “jobs deficit” — the number of jobs needed to get back to pre-recession unemployment rates (including the jobs required to return to pre-recession level AND the jobs needed to keep up with population growth since the beginning of the recession).

For states with the greatest population growth, employing a growing population and workforce during a recession can be challenging. The data show that of the 10 states with the greatest population growth since Dec. 2009 (the beginning of the recession), six of those states — Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, and Idaho — fall in the top 10 in terms of the current jobs deficit as a percent of Dec. 2009 employment. As seen in Figure 1, there are distinct regional patterns, with states in the West and Southeast facing the largest jobs deficits as a percentage of pre-recession employment.

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Figure 1

Notably, these states coincide very closely with the states experiencing the greatest economic distress as a result of housing foreclosures, further driving home the fact that each indicator of state economic and fiscal distress is intertwined with others (see, for example, our previous post highlighting a recent IRLE study showing that state budget distress is highly correlated with distress in the housing market, and is not caused by public sector unions).

State governors have been quick to pat themselves on the back when they have positive employment growth to report. Indeed, the governor of Texas has made his track record on job creation a centerpiece of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Yet these jobs deficit numbers highlight the fact that even Texas has a long way to go to erase its jobs deficit. If one looks at the number of jobs required to erase state jobs deficits, Texas has the third largest jobs deficit to address — 654,700 jobs — behind California (1,781,100 jobs deficit) and Florida (973,300 jobs deficit). Figure 2 shows the number of jobs each state must create in order to erase the jobs deficit that continues to impede economic recovery throughout the nation. Only North Dakota has successfully erased its jobs deficit, showing growth of 19,500 jobs beyond the employment level needed to get back to pre-recession unemployment rates.

America works best when Americans work. Since it will take some time to make inroads on the 11.6 million national jobs deficit, state and national leaders should continue extended unemployment insurance benefits, and boost wages for those who are working by increasing the minimum wage. Until every state has successfully returned to pre-recession levels, state and national leaders need to focus like a laser on creating quality jobs that contribute to shared prosperity and a moral economy.

Figure 2