Jobs Vary by State, Showing Why Education Matters

Judy Hartnett's picture
Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Education is a good predictor of which areas continue to have high unemployment rates.

Friday’s state-level employment figures remind us that this economic recovery, like the recession that preceded it, is astonishingly uneven across America.

The unemployment rate remains more than 11 percent in Nevada and less than 4 percent in Nebraska. This heterogeneity poses great challenges to any nationwide stimulus policy, which will inevitably deliver its supposed medicine both to healthy Nebraska and ailing Nevada. Attempts to target aid to faltering states, or industries, slow the positive process of relocation across space and job. A far better path is to focus on helping poor people, not poor places, especially by improving education.

Two-and-a-half years ago, widespread travails made it easy to make the case for national economic interventions. In October 2009, there were only eight states with unemployment rates of less than 7 percent; collectively they made up 4.4 percent of the 50 states’ populations.

In April 2012, a total of 22 states had jobless rates of less than 7 percent. Our economic troubles are not over, but there are wide swaths of the country where joblessness is back to reasonable levels, which makes it harder to build the case for more nationwide action.

Education is a good predictor of which areas continue to have high unemployment rates. In April, the 25 states with the lowest share of high-school dropouts among adults older than 25 averaged a jobless rate of 6.3 percent. The 25 states with the highest shares of high-school dropouts averaged 8.2 percent unemployment.

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