Last week, we looked at what makes for happy states. One thing that stood out was that states with larger concentrations of the working class had lower levels of well-being.
So, we decided to take a closer look at the relationship between the working class and several key indicators of state wealth and well-being.
What we found is striking – and frankly troubling. States with large concentrations of working class jobs had lower levels of income, GDP per capita, and well-being – pretty much everything across the board.
There were significant negative correlations between states with a large share of working class jobs and three of the five component indices in the Gallup well-being index: healthy behavior ( -.65), physical health (-.42), and life evaluation (-.31), as well as for the well-being index overall (-.51).
The pattern was similar, even worse, when we looked at the relationships between the working class and GDP per capita (-.51), income (-.69), human capital levels (-.71), and housing prices (-.62).
So maybe it’s time to think twice when we hear how important it is to save “good” working class jobs. Individually, that may well be the case. Some of these jobs pay very well, and lots of people who lose them may find it difficult, perhaps impossible, to find similar work at their pay levels
But from the point of view of society and economic development broadly, it’s important to recognize that states with large concentrations of working class jobs do very poorly in terms of wealth and well-being.
These findings distress me personally. Looking them over and over, I found myself thinking back to advice my father – who spent more then 50 years as a worker in a Newark eyeglass factory – gave my brother and I long ago. “Boys,” he said, ”I do this so you won’t have to. That’s why you have to stay in school, study hard, and go to college.” I understand much better now what he was driving at.