The State of Working Iowa 2009
Click here for the full report
Key Points from The State of Working Iowa 2009
Unemployment: Iowa has lost 46,000 jobs since the onset of the recession, while the working-age population has grown — leaving an effective jobs shortfall of over 62,000
Severity of Recession: Job loss trends resemble 1980s, steeper than 2001 downturn
Wages: Iowa ranks 32nd nationally in median wage at $14.97 (2008), 77 cents per hour below national average
Cost context: Health care, education and housing costs all rising much faster than Iowa median wage
Family Insecurity: Paucity of good jobs, decline of benefits and higher household costs (housing, health care, child care) leave many struggling paycheck to paycheck.
Longstanding Challenges Intensify as Iowa Looks for Turnaround
Full report (PDF). 9/6/09
News release (PDF). 9/6/09

As Iowans seek better economic times, policy makers could do more to make work pay for low- and moderate-income working families and to insist upon job-quality requirements in economic development strategies. In the annual “State of Working Iowa” review from the Iowa Policy Project, researchers Colin Gordon and Christine Ralston note that hard hits to industrial and housing sectors during the national recession have not hurt Iowa as much as other states. Still, wage stagnation, declining job-based health and pension benefits and both short- and long-term losses of good jobs remain obstacles to a strong recovery in Iowa.

“Although the national recession has not hit Iowa as hard as other states, we are scarcely unscathed,” the report stated. “Unemployment has doubled in 18 months. Iowans have lost hundreds of millions in home equity and retirement savings.”

The difficult economy puts heavier burdens on families facing higher out-of-pocket costs in education and health care, and the reality or threat of unemployment or underemployment, the researchers said. As Iowa’s unemployment rate climbed above 6.5 percent in 2009, its highest level in almost 23 years, the Labor Day report found the following behind the numbers:

Among recommendations in 'The State of Working Iowa 2009':
  • Cost-of-living increases for the state's $7.25 per hour minimum wage,
  • Expansion of the state's Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income working families,
  • Enhanced access to the state's Child Care Assistance program, with protection against a loss of benefits in response to small income increases,
  • Expansion of Medicaid to protect more low-income workers,
  • Better access to post-secondary education, and
  • Economic development strategy focused on quality jobs, as opposed to “any” new investment.
  • Manufacturing jobs declined by over 9 percent from 2000 to 2008, by 23,600 — a number that has more than doubled by adding in losses during 2009. In the same period, financial activities, construction and education/health services jobs increased by 14-15 percent.
  • Underemployment — including people working part time for economic reasons and those not reflected in the unemployment rate — was 7.6 percent in 2008, before the marked job losses from the start of 2009.
  • Iowa ranks near the middle — fifth of nine — among Midwestern states on median wage, but 32nd nationally at $14.97 in 2008, 77 cents below the U.S. average.
  • Iowa, which was quicker than most states to adopt the $7.25 minimum wage, ranks in the top half only in pay for low-wage workers (23rd, at $9.88 per hour at the 20th percentile). Iowa is 39th at the high-wage comparison.
  • The brunt of declines in the current business cycle are borne by younger and less-educated workers; for those with less than a high-school education, unemployment has not significantly eased from the 11 percent range it hit during the 2001 recession.
  • Job quality declined even as the job base recovered from the 2001 recession; three of the four job sectors where jobs declined from 2001-07 were also among the four top-paying job sectors.
  • Working Iowans have taken a double hit on job-based benefits. As job growth has drifted from high-wage sectors such as manufacturing, it also has drifted from sectors offering stable, job-based health-coverage.
  • Iowa remains a low-wage state, trailing the national average and ranking sixth in the nine-state region in median wage ($14.30 in 2007), with similar rankings at low-wage (20th percentile -- $9.28) and high-wage (80th percentile -- $22.76) measures. Low and median wages have fallen since 2001, with high wages showing little growth.
  • “It might surprise some Iowans to realize that child care in Iowa can easily cost more than tuition at state universities,” Ralston said. “Meanwhile, eligibility for child care assistance is severely curtailed by Iowa's restrictions limiting access to only very low-income families. We need to expand that to more people at the margins, to encourage them to work and improve the economy.”

    See The State of Working Iowa 2009:
    Full report (28 pages)
    News release

    The State of Working Iowa — Previous Issues
    The State of Working Iowa 2008
    Full report (10 pages)
    News release
    Part 2 — Women, Work and the Iowa Economy
    Full report (11 pages)
    News release
    Part 3 — Young Workers and the Iowa Economy
    Full report (6 pages)
    News release
    The State of Working Iowa 2007
    Full report (25 pages)
    News release
    No Picnic: A Labor Day 2006 Update on The State of Working Iowa
    Full report (7 pages)
    News release
    The State of Working Iowa 2005
    Full report (30 pages)
    News release
    Working Blues: Labor Day in Iowa, 2004
    Full report (5 pages)
    News release
    The State of Working Iowa 2003
    Full report (63 pages)
    News release
    The State of Working Iowa 2001
    Full report (71 pages)
    Executive Summary