Much of the debate surrounding right-to-work laws has focused on their impact on state economies. Unquestionably, this is an important consideration. Less attention has been paid, however, to the benefits of right-to-work laws that are either unrelated or only indirectly connected to economic statistics.
Studies have consistently shown that right-to-work is associated with economic growth in key economic sectors, particularly those that are heavily unionized. A 2002 study found that, between 1970 and 2000, gross state product, overall employment, manufacturing employment, construction employment and per-capita disposable income all grew faster in right-to-work states than in non-right-to-work ones. That same study showed lower average annual unemployment, poverty rates, income inequality and labor costs in right-to-work states. A 2007 study reached similar findings, as did another review in 2008. A 2010 journal article found that right-to-work laws were positively correlated with interstate migration, with right-to-work states increasing in population by 100%, while non-right-to-work states only increased by 25.7%.
These findings have remained more-or-less consistent in the years since. A 2020 study found that companies increase investments and the number of jobs in states following the adoption of a right-to-work law. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that employment grew more than twice as fast in right-to-work states as it did in non-right-to-work ones.
Perhaps no statistic better captures differences in economic opportunity and quality of life among the states than migration patterns. The most powerful vote people can cast is with their feet —in other words, where they chose to live. Here again, the impact of right-to-work laws appears to be significant. Right-to-work states experienced more than three times the population growth as non-right-to-work states from 2010 to 2020, representing a net of 4.5 million people moving into these right-to-work states.
These findings are only further supported by a 2019 study in the Journal of Law and Economics. This study, which relied on Gallup polling data, suggests that the adoption of right-to-work laws increased both individual life satisfaction and economic sentiment. These positive increases were particularly concentrated among union workers. The study also found that these results were “consistent with the view that [right-to-work] laws increase competition, and, in turn, encourage unions to provide higher quality services.” In short, right-to-work laws lead to greater expected prosperity and happier workers.