As unions go, population goes the other way?

January 25, 2011

Writing in the Washington Examiner, Michael Barone mines data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and notes an interesting trend: in states with high union membership, the state’s population grows slowly or declines. The opposite is true in other states. Have a look at this graphic:

Barone refrains from speculating, but I think there are a couple of plausible observations one can make from this. First, the data indicates that people are reluctant to move to (or are fleeing from) states with mandatory union membership for workers, high taxes, and a regulatory environment that’s hostile to business. Not necessarily for themselves (except in the case of taxes), but because companies are moving to friendlier environments, such as the states in the lower half of the chart, and thus people are moving where the jobs are.

But what about California, which seems to buck the trend with double-digit population growth and one of the most anti-business climates in the nation? This is sheer guesswork on my part, but I think it is evidence of how powerful California has been both economically and as a magnet for people looking for a better life. Starting with the Gold Rush and then the first land boom in the 1880s, and especially after World War II, this state was “the place to be.” A great climate and beautiful scenery, a seemingly endless array of affordable new housing, an economy growing fast in almost any sector you could imagine… It’s no wonder that, by 2008, ours was the 9th-largest economy in the world.

And there you have your reason. It takes time to kill a giant, even though we have been doing our darnedest to do just that for the last 20 years, as has, in recent times, the federal government. Inertia is tough to overcome. (Newton’s first law apparently applies to states, too.) While other factors are at play besides unions and their attendant power, the grip public unions have over California’s finances is a major part of our problems. If we don’t solve them, expect to see that rate of population growth slow to single digits or even go negative in the next census.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)