Using Labor Stats to Broaden Perspectives


In today’s world, a great deal of people lack an understanding of countering perspectives. Especially when it comes to politics and public policy, a majority of people formulate an opinion without really understanding where the other side is coming from.

Part of this stems from the growing partisan nature of our news sources. So many people get their daily information from biased cable news stations or online sources that provide only one side of an argument without giving the other side any real credibility.

Over the years, I have made a conscious effort to try to avoid falling into this dearth of viewpoints by reading news with countering views to what I personally believe in. This is a major reason why I love the Wall Street Journal so much (along with its great business and economics section). As a person who has always leaned a bit left of center, a more right leaning paper has provided well written perspectives that counter my views and force me to think critically about an argument.

One of the most heated partisan debates of the current time revolves around the support of President Trump and his administration. People who support him do so with fiery passion while those who are against him see no argument to why anyone should support him.

As someone who is not a supporter of most policies that come out of the administration, I have put a great deal of thought into how and why a large swath of our country supports it. One explanation I have read into can be seen through economic data from different states. I would like to share these numbers so that others may as well take a more critical look at the argument.

Labor Data 

With the release of March’s jobs report last Friday, the past few days have seen a great deal of analysis of the current batch of numbers. Included in this is the Wall Street Journal’s Daily Shot, a once-a-day recap of market and economic data. The Daily Shot’s April 8th report took a deep look into the unemployment report and pulled out some interesting details.

A major insight that really got me thinking is in graph 1 below. Here, we see labor participation split between right leaning red states and left leaning blue states. The graph clearing displays how blue states have been seeing strong growth in participation while red states have flat lined, causing a major separation.

unnamed (1)
Graph 1

This trend is important because it exemplifies the differences in various states’ economies. Labor force participation is the percent of  people over the age of 18 who are either working or actively seeking work, so a lower rate can be looked at as less people working.

Now these two trend lines are the average among all blue states and all red states, so looking at BLS data for individual states paints a clearer picture. Let’s look at three solidly red states from a couple different regions: Louisiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

All three of these states have labor force participation rates significantly below the national 63.0% rate. For February 2019, Kentucky saw a 59% rate, Louisiana was 58.7% , and West Virginia was 54.3%.

Adding to this, these three states all had unemployment and underemployment (the U-6) rates above the national average when aggregated for all twelve months in 2018. For unemployment rates, West Virginia was 1.4% above the national average, Louisiana was 1% higher, and Kentucky was 0.5% higher. For underemployment the three were 2.1%, 1.7%, and 0.4% higher, respectively.

Altogether, the data indicates that these states all have weaker labor markets than the country as a whole.

Data Inferences

So what point am I getting at with these numbers? According to Gallup, these three states all have approval ratings for President Trump above the average 39% approval for his entire term. West Virginia saw a 62% approval rating in 2018, higher than any other state. Kentucky was the 9th highest at 53%. Louisiana was not quite as high at a 49% approval, but still saw more approval than disapproval.

Looking at how weaker state labor markets line up with higher approval ratings leads me to believe in the idea that people who feel left out of the current economic expansion are the most supportive of the Trump Administration. Steep tariffs in support of domestic industry and a hard stance on immigration in favor of native workers is likely very appealing when your job market is weak and there are fewer jobs available relative to other states.

This is obviously not the whole story behind the Trump presidency. Many states with strong labor markets (the Dakotas, Nebraska) also have high approval ratings. Regardless, it is an important explanation to consider.

Providing Viewpoints

This post is not intended to sway anyone’s views, but I hope it provides a side of the argument that you may not have thought of before. Again, I like to learn about opposing view points to better understand the other side and to build a more complete argument for my own stance.

Hopefully this will do just that for you.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s