No other legislation in Michigan garnered as much public attention last year than that commonly known as “right-to-work.”[1] It was passed in December over significant opposition from organized labor and became law in 2013, making Michigan the 24th state with such a law.[*] Right-to-work laws prohibit employers from requiring their employees to join or financially support a labor union as a condition of employment.

A key element of the debate in Michigan over right-to-work laws was the dispute over whether these laws have a positive or negative impact on a state’s economy. But determining the impact of right-to-work laws statistically is no small task. Many scholars have tackled the issue with varying methodologies, analyzing different data sets and time periods.

This study adds to that body of research and examines the economic consequences of right-to-work laws in detail. It analyzes average annual growth in a state’s employment, real personal income and population from 1947 through 2011 as a means to capture the economic impact of right-to-work laws. These data are divided into three distinct time periods: 1947 through 1970, 1971 through 1990 and 1991 through 2011. This approach attempts to capture the evolving impact of right-to-work on different states over time.

This analysis begins with a brief history and overview of right-to-work laws, follows with a discussion of the challenges of studying such laws, reviews the existing body of relevant academic research and then provides a short description of the study’s methodology and key statistical findings.


[*] The first right-to-work legislation introduced in Michigan was Senate Bill 1217 of 1955.