NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Right to Work Is Working in Oklahoma

October 28, 2011

Contrary to reports from detractors, the implementation of right to work (RTW) laws in Oklahoma (first approved by the state's voters in 2001) has brought about significant gains for the manufacturing industry in that state, say J. Scott Moody and Wendy P. Warcholik, research fellows with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

  • Between 2003 and 2010, Oklahoma's manufacturing gross domestic product (GDP) has grown 45 percent, outstripping that of the average manufacturing growth in RTW states (31 percent) and in non-RTW states (22 percent).
  • Simultaneously, Oklahoma witnessed a productivity growth rate of 67 percent (measured by manufacturing GDP per worker), outgrowing non-RTW states (55 percent) and RTW states (62 percent).
  • In those same years, 13,215 households, 40,693 people and $99 million in income have migrated to Oklahoma, with most of these gains coming from non-RTW states.

Critics of the RTW laws have cited a decline in the number of manufacturing jobs as evidence that the legislation has crippled the manufacturing industry of the state, but this conclusion is based on myopic analysis.  It is confounded by simultaneous increases in technology that have replaced traditional manufacturing positions, thereby reducing the manufacturing workforce across the country regardless of RTW laws.  Rather, the true gain from RTW policies is seen in the increasing productivity of workers who have remained in the industry.

Furthermore, by increasing productivity within the field, RTW laws have created several beneficial economic effects within the state.  First, higher productivity yields higher wages and larger corporate profits, and the increased spending associated with these gains can be expected to spill over into other areas of the economy.  Second, increasing efficiency of labor frees up workers from positions for which they are ill-suited, allowing them to seek more gainful employment elsewhere.  The ultimate benefit in this regard is that several sectors will benefit from optimized allocations of labor, thereby seeing gains for the entire state brought about by right to work laws.

Source: J. Scott Moody and Wendy P. Warcholik, "Oklahoma's Improved Economic Performance Suggests Right to Work Is Working," Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, October 4, 2011.

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