5 States Where The Working Class Was Hit Hardest By Recession

It’s been well documented that low-skilled workers were more likely to lose their jobs during the recession than those with higher levels of education. The current unemployment rate is 14.0% for workers without a high school degree, 9.7% for those with only a high school degree, and 4.2% for those with a college degree. A new analysis by the Urban Institute identifies the states where low-skilled workers (those with less than a high school degree) were hit hardest by the recession in comparison to other groups: Tennessee, Virginia, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Arizona.

You can see how your state is doing in the map below, which shows the change in the share of employed workers who do not have a high school degree. As the report’s author, Josh Mitchell, explains, “A value of zero percent would indicate low-skill workers lost employment at the same rate as all workers in the state.” Negative values indicate that the share of workers who have less than a high school degree shrank, meaning job losses disproportionately affected low-skilled workers. The states where low-skilled workers fared the best are those with positive values, such as Nebraska, Alaska, Delaware, South Dakota, and Missouri. These are among the few states where workers with low education levels were less likely to lose their jobs during the recession than other workers.

What’s interesting is that there’s no readily apparent thread that links the five states (TN, VA, MA, OR, and AZ) where low-skilled workers suffered much heavier job losses than other workers. None are among the states with the highest overall unemployment rates. The manufacturing and construction industries faced major job losses during the recession, which is part of the reason low-skilled workers – who populate these industries – suffered more than others. But of the five states where low-skilled workers were hit hardest, only Arizona is among the states generally considered to have the worst housing markets. While Oregon and Tennessee rely heavily on manufacturing, the other three states do not. In addition, these five states don’t have an unusually high or low number of low-skilled workers. Massachusetts, Oregon, and Virginia have somewhat more educated populations than the U.S. as a whole, while Tennessee and Arizona have lower education levels.

This analysis shows us where low-skilled workers bore the brunt of the recession and in what states job losses were distributed more evenly among groups. The cause of these patterns is not immediately clear, but might lie in differences in state and local government policies and the economic landscape of each state.

Where It Really Hurts: Job Losses for Low-Skill Workers by State
Urban Institute // Josh Mitchell // October 2011

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