More than one out of four unemployed Iowans had been jobless in excess of six months at the end of 2012, an indication of the lingering weak economic recovery for Iowa, according to a new report released this morning by the Iowa Policy Project.
Nearly seven years since the onset of the recession in December 2007, the national economy is still far short of pre-recession employment, according to "The State of Working Iowa," available at www.iowapolicyproject.org. For Iowa, "the picture is a little better," the report said, noting that, statistically, the state in June returned to pre-recession peak employment levels.
Putting aside jobs gained from in-migration and graduates entering the job market, Iowa still has a "jobs deficit" of about 52,000 jobs compared with pre-recession levels. Over the past year, the state's economy has been adding about 2,100 jobs a month, which puts Iowa on pace to clear that jobs deficit by August 2015.
Though Iowa's economy has grown by approximately 67 percent since 1979, wage earners have seen little of this growth, even at the top of the wage distribution.
Iowa's median wage in 2012 was $15.62 per hour, ranking eighth highest among 12 Midwestern states. "Measured against its Midwestern peers, Iowa's wage structure is more compressed - and weaker at the higher (pay levels)" the report said.
"The long-term pattern is pretty clear," said Colin Gordon, the report's author. "Working families have lost a lot of ground across the last 40 years - except for a short period in the late 1990s. ...The last business cycle did not hit Iowa as hard as it hit the rest of the country, but our wages were already low."
Asked what the state can do to address the problem of the growing disparity between low-wage and high wage workers, Gordon said state government can really only be effective in two strategies to affect wages:
1. The research shows that investments in education and workforce development do make a difference.
2. Implement policies that sustain the floor of the economy, such as minimum wage and income tax credits.