This study examines the impact of right-to-work laws on three measures of state-level aggregate economic activity (employment, real personal income and population) from 1947 through 2011. It deploys a careful temporal analysis of these effects and attempts to isolate the specific effect right-to-work laws had on individual states.

This research suggests that from 1947 through 1970 (the period immediately following the Taft-Hartley Act), right-to-work laws had very little meaningful statistical impact on overall economic performance in right-to-work states. However, from 1971 through 1990, when manufacturing employment in the United States began to languish, right-to-work laws demonstrated a statistically significant effect on these measures. Finally, over the course of roughly the last two decades, from 1991 through 2011, right-to-work laws’ impact on state economic well-being has moderately slowed, but remains considerable.

These findings suggest that right-to-work laws may have a positive — at times very positive — impact on the economic well-being of a state and its residents.