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List of Best States to Work Holds Surprises


The new index, which assesses labor laws and worker protections in all states in the country, puts Washington, DC at the top and Virginia at the bottom.

The District of Columbia leads the way in a new ranking of state labor laws and worker protections released by Oxfam America today, while neighboring Virginia comes in last. Washington, California, and Massachusetts also ranked at the top of the first ever Best States to Work Index; Pennsylvania, Montana and Indiana rank in the middle; while Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi are also at the bottom.
The Best States to Work Index looks at 11 policy areas in three dimensions: wage policies to ensure workers earn as close to a living wage as possible; worker protections so workers can take time off for sickness or pregnancy and have legal protections against sexual harassment; and right to organize policies to protect the rights of workers to find a voice through organizing and sustaining a trade union if they desire.
“In today’s America, just a few miles make a huge difference in wages and labor protections,” said Minor Sinclair, Oxfam America’s US Domestic Program director. “While legislators in some states are making moves to keep workers and their families out of poverty, legislators in other states seem content with a poor-to-middling status quo.”
While Oxfam’s Index ranks states from best to worst, it’s important to note that no state was found to provide a living wage, a critical determinant of the adequacy of a minimum wage. According to a simple ratio of the minimum wage to a living wage, no state minimum wage exceeds even half of a living wage for a family of four. And while the majority of states have made progress on basic equal pay legislation and basic sexual harassment laws, few have passed paid sick leave, paid family leave and fair scheduling laws.
Importantly, Oxfam also found correlations between high scores on the Best States to Work Index and desirable economic and social indicators. This includes a moderate correlation with lower rates of infant mortality and poverty, and with higher rates of life expectancy, median income, GDP per capita, and labor force participation rates. While correlation is not causality, this evidence suggests that there these policies are not damaging to the economy or the health of the population, and may in fact support them.
“Labor laws and policies across our nation affect people’s lives and livelihoods on a daily basis,” continued Sinclair. “With this ranking, we hope state legislators consider the impacts of labor policies on working families, and make moves to implement policies that will help the people in their states thrive and prosper.”
Oxfam specifically recommends increasing minimum wages, improving worker protections such as strengthening equal pay laws, providing workplace protections for pregnant and breastfeeding workers, ensuring job-protected paid family and medical leave, guaranteeing paid sick days, protecting against sexual harassment, while repealing laws that undermine worker freedom to bargain collectively.


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