Analysis

Employment Still Trails Prerecession Rates in Most States

Employment rates for 25- to 54-year-olds were lower in 34 states in 2013 than in 2007, before the Great Recession. This decline means less revenue for state governments from personal and business income taxes and sales tax—and often increased strain on assistance programs.

In 2007, leading up to the Great Recession, nearly 80 of every 100 people ages 25 to 54 in the United States had a job. In 2013, well after the recession ended, slightly fewer than 76 of every 100 people in that age group were working. Download the data

This 4.1-percentage-point decline in the employment to population ratio for people in their prime working years shows that the U.S. labor market remains weak. This finding has significant budgetary consequences for states:

  • Without paychecks, people pay less income tax and tend to buy less, reducing sales and business income tax revenue.
  • Unemployed people frequently need more services, such as Medicaid and other safety-net programs, increasing costs at a time when state governments have less tax revenue.

A state-by-state comparison of 2007 and 2013 shows:

Where Employment Rates Lag the Most

For every 100 prime-age workers, how many fewer had a job in 2013 than in 2007?
New Mexico  -8.9
Nevada -8.0
Arizona -6.3
Florida -6.2
Montana -6.0
Source: Pew analysis of data from the Current Population Survey, published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau
  • No state reported employment rate gains for 25- to 54-year-olds.
  • 34 states had statistically significant decreases.
  • The largest decline in the employment rate was in New Mexico, where 70.2 percent of prime-age workers had jobs in 2013—8.9 percentage points lower than in 2007.
  • Among the least affected were Vermont and Nebraska, which recorded the smallest observable changes in their current employment rates of 82.9 and 84.7 percent, respectively.

Although unemployment figures receive more media attention, the employment rate is a preferred index for many economists because it provides a sharper picture of changes in the labor market. The unemployment rate, for example, fails to count workers who stopped looking for a job. By focusing on 25- to 54-year-olds, trends are less distorted by demographic effects such as older and younger workers’ choices regarding retirement or full-time education.

A statistically significant decrease indicates a high level of confidence that there was a true change in the employment rate. Changes that are not statistically significant offer less certainty and could be the result of variations in sampling and other methods used to produce employment estimates. Without additional testing for statistical significance, caution should be exercised when comparing change in one state’s employment rate to change in another state’s rate.

Analysis by Jeff Chapman and Julie Srey

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