With slower job growth — and sharp job losses in manufacturing — one naturally would expect to see higher unemployment rates in non-right-to-work states. This held true between 1978 and 2000: right-to-work states had an average unemployment rate of 5.8 percent versus 6.3 for non-right-to-work states. Michigan, in spite of its relative prosperity during the 1990s, had a poor record for unemployment for the period, with an average unemployment rate of 8.1 percent.
Unemployment rates were lower overall from 2001 to 2006, and the gaps between right-to-work and non-right-to-work states (including Michigan) tightened somewhat, but right-to-work states still tended to have lower rates of unemployment: 4.8 percent for right-to-work states, 5.1 percent for non-right-to-work states and 6.5 percent for Michigan.
The unemployment rate for Michigan may understate the difficulty that Michigan workers have in finding jobs. From 2000 to 2006 the Census estimates that Michigan’s population grew by only 1.6 percent, while the national population grew by 6.4 percent. Data compiled by United Van Lines, one of the nation’s largest movers, indicates that in 2006 Michigan was tied with North Dakota for the highest rate of outbound migration in the country, with nearly two families leaving the state for every family moving in. The families that move out will not show up in the state’s unemployment figures, but it is very likely that many of them are the families of Michigan workers who could not find jobs close to home.