Studies mixed on right-to-work's impact

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If you're trying to get a straight, unbiased answer on what the right-to-work legislation signed into law Tuesday will mean for future job prospects and wages, you might be a little frustrated. Finding the facts on right-to-work's impact is no easy task -- and for good reason.
"We frankly do not have robust, consistent estimates of this," said Dr. Tim Bartik of the Kalamazoo W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

That's not for lack of trying. Studies on the impact of right-to-work laws on jobs and wages abound, but none of them make its effects cut-and-dry.

"This is one of the tougher issues to evaluate," said Bartic.

The Upjohn Institute -- an independent  non-profit, non-partisan research organization -- prides itself on basing its findings solely on the data.

"In the case of right-to-work, I find studies with very good methodology that find some positive effect on job growth," said Bartik. "And I find studies with equally good methodology that find no such effects."

A big part of the problem is there aren't a lot of examples to study.

Earlier this year. Indiana became the first state in a decade -- and the first rust belt state ever -- to pass right-to-work legislation. Oklahoma made the switch in 2001 and Idaho in 1985.

Before that, it had been several decades since the other 20 right-to-work states began enacting their laws in the 1940s.

"The only real variation in this in recent years has been Idaho and Oklahoma. It's a little hard to evaluate that," said Bartik.

A study out of the University of Nevada Las Vegas found that manufacturing did grow in Idaho after right-to-work legislation passed, but not in Oklahoma.

== Read the UNLV study (pdf) ==

A study from Cornell University concluded that non-union wages went down in Idaho after right-to-work, but there was no significant negative effect in Oklahoma. However, the researcher in that case noted he had only one year's worth of data from Oklahoma to consider.

== Read the Cornell study (pdf) ==

In Indiana -- the most recent example -- 90 companies have said right-to-work will factor in their decision whether to locate there, with 31 already committing.

But Dr. Bartik still cautions  that it's too early to tell what right-to-work will mean in Indiana -- or in Michigan.

"The trouble with right-to-work laws is they may raise job growth in some companies, but they may also lower wages," said Bartik. "And both of those outcomes are highly uncertain because the studies are all over the map."

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