Special Report

The Worst States for Working People

The last several years have been difficult for the working people of America. Inflation is soaring at a pace not seen since the early 1980s, eating up wage increases. If they have a 401(k) or retirement plan tied to the stock market, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has slid about 19% so far in 2022 (Sept. 23). COVID-19 and climate hazards have been making workplace conditions more perilous.

To identify the worst states for working people, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the index scores for Best and Worst States to Work in America report published by Oxfam, a global organization that fights inequality to end poverty and injustice. All data in the Oxfam report is based on laws and policies in effect as of July 1, 2022. The index is based on state policies in three areas: wages (40% of overall score); worker protections (35% of overall score); and rights to organize (25% of overall score). The minimum wage and the MIT calculation for living wage in each state also comes from the report. The population that is food insecure comes from the Department of Agriculture Economic Research Initiative. 2021 unemployment and labor force size come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the poverty rate comes from the Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey.

Based on data from Oxfam, the six worst states for working people are in the South: North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, and South Carolina. All six have minimum wage set at the federally mandated $7.25 an hour. Mississippi has the highest food insecurity and poverty rates, and Tennessee has the lowest MIT-calculated living wage. 

A higher minimum wage can make a difference. For example, Washington state has the highest minimum wage of any state at $14.49 an hour. A full-time minimum wage job in that state pays about $30,000 a year. In neighboring Idaho, where the minimum is $7.25 an hour, the same job pays $15,080 annually. (Here are 50 cities with huge populations living on food stamps.)

The next four worst states for working people are Plains states Oklahoma and Kansas and Western states Idaho and Utah. All 10 of these states are right-to-work states, where union activity is discouraged. (These are the states with the highest union membership.)

Click here to see the worst states for working people.

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