Disunited States of America


I have a chapter on state-level labor-market regulations in a new ILR Press book edited by David Jacobs (Morgan State University) and Peggy Kahn (University of Michigan, Flint). The book is called Disunited States of America: Employment Relations Systems in Conflict, and the title of my chapter is “Differences in the ‘inclusiveness’ of state labor market institutions.”

My chapter compiles and presents a lot of data on differences in minimum wages, unionization rates, earned income tax credits, unemployment insurance systems, employment protection legislation, and other dimensions of labor-market regulation at both the state and international levels. The main conclusion is that, while there is substantial variation across the U.S. states along many of these dimensions, these differences are small relative to the gap between the United States and the rest of the world’s rich economies.

To give just one example, the figure below shows an OECD-calculated measure of the generosity of unemployment insurance benefits in the core OECD economies, together with my own roughly comparable estimates for the U.S. state with the most generous unemployment insurance system (Rhode Island) and the least generous system (District of Columbia). By the OECD’s calculation, the United States as a whole has one of the least generous unemployment benefit systems. But, the figure illustrates that even the most extravagant U.S. state program would still look miserly by international standards. A similar pattern holds for the other indicators I examine: even the most “inclusive” U.S. labor-market systems compare poorly to our peer economies.


The other chapters in the volume include: “The persistent effects of slavery in the United States: culture, legal policy, and the decline of American labor unions,” by Raymond L. Hogler; “Labor in the world of cynical conservative federalism,” by Nathan Newman; “Worker centers as an inflection point? An introduction and an interview with Kimi Lee,” by Peggy Kahn and Kimi Lee; “Beyond the Family and Medical Leave Act: the pluralization of leave rights from below,” by Peggy Kahn; “Labor and class in a neo-mercantile context: a view from the U.S. Midwest,” by Roland Zullo; “Health insurance coverage of low-income workers in the United States,” by Sara R. Collins and Tracy Garber; with a conclusion on “Reconstituting laborist capitalism,” by David Jacobs.

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