The Best and Worst States to Work in America
In 2018, workers are not sharing in the bounty of our thriving economy—and the federal government is not going to make changes that matter. However, some states are taking steps to keep working families out of poverty, and to give them a decent chance. How does your state rank?
This index ranks all 50 states and Washington, DC. Find out more in our report.
The Best States to Work Index: How the states rank overall
While the federal government has refused to make changes that would raise wages or improve conditions for workers, many states have stepped up to reward and protect working families. We evaluated states on three dimensions:
- Wage policies: Has the state raised the minimum wage to help workers earn a living wage? Do localities have capacity to raise the minimum wage to accommodate higher costs of living?
- Worker protection policies: Does the state provide protections at work for situations such as paid sick leave, pregnancy, and equal pay?
- Right to organize policies: Does the state guarantee that workers have the right to organize and sustain a trade union?
Review full information on how each state scores on the full range of labor policies.
The Best States to Work Index: How the states rank on Wage policies
Most states have raised minimum wages above the federal threshold of $7.25 (a poverty wage). These boosts make a solid difference. For example, in Washington, DC, a full-time minimum wage job pays $27,560 annually ($13.25 an hour); in Virginia, the same job pays $15,080 annually ($7.25 an hour). The index considers two items:
The Best States to Work Index: How the states rank on Worker Protection policies
Many states have established policies that protect workers from abuse in a variety of situations—especially women and working parents.
The laws in the index include: protections for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding; mandate of equal pay by gender; expansions on FMLA leave; a mandate for paid sick leave; protections for flexible scheduling; and protections around sexual harassment. (See Methodology for full information.)
The Best States to Work Index: How the states rank on Right to Organize policies
Many states have strong policies that ensure that workers enjoy rights to organize, collectively bargain, and negotiate wages. Collective bargaining results in stronger protections and higher wages.
This index measures three areas: so-called “Right to Work” laws (which suppress union activity); the rights of public employees (teachers, police, firefighters) to collective bargaining and wage negotiation; and the availability of project labor agreements for government contracts.
The Best and States to Work Index: How the states rank overall and by dimension
According to economic correlations, good ratings on labor policies definitely relate to positive economic and health indicators. For example, states with higher scores have longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates.
All data is based on laws and policies in effect as of July 1, 2018.
The index is based on state policies in three dimensions; each accounts for a third of the final overall score.
Do workers earn a living wage that is sufficient to provide for them and their families? This dimension includes two areas:
- The ratio of the actual state minimum wage in relation to the “living wage” for a family of four with one wage earner. The living wage figure is from the MIT Living Wage Calculator 1.
- Whether or not the state allows localities to implement their own minimum wage laws 2.
Worker protection policies
This dimension considers the quality of life for workers, especially women and parents. The policies include:
- Protections for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding.
- Mandates for equal pay, pay secrecy, and no salary history.
- Leave for non-FMLA workers because of less time on the job; leave longer than federal FMLA.
- Mandate for paid sick leave.
- Protections around flexible scheduling, reporting pay, split shift pay, advance notice.
- Protections around sexual harassment.
Right to organize policies
Do workers have the right to organize and sustain a trade union?
- Does the state have a so-called “Right to Work” law (which suppresses union activity)?
- Do public employees (teachers, police, firefighters) have rights to collective bargaining and wage negotiation?
- Are project labor agreements for government contracts available?
- MIT Living Wage Calculator. http://livingwage.mit.edu
- Local control over the minimum wage is based on Input provided by the National Employment Law Project, 2018.