By Colin Gordon
Senior Research Consultant
Each year, we offer our assessment of “The State of Working Iowa.” For now the fourth consecutive year, that story begins with impact and aftermath of the Great Recession. Iowa was not hit as hard as most states. We were insulated from the housing bubble that precipitated the downturn, and unemployment here has remained a couple of notches below the national rate. But we were hardly spared. If the recession were a flood (to use a metaphor most Iowans can relate to), we were lucky to be on a little higher ground than most. But the damage is still extensive, the water has only begun to recede, and the costs of recovery will be substantial. The recession, however, is only part of the story. While the economic downturn made things worse, most of the problems we trace in the pages that follow — including stagnant wages, declining job quality, rising inequality, and growing insecurity for Iowa families — were evident before the recession began in 2007 and have persisted through a drawn-out and dismal “recovery.” Even when the floodwaters are gone, in other words, the ground will still be pretty muddy and the conditions that caused the flooding will still be with us.
The State of Working Iowa 2012 draws on the latest available data to document the immediate impact of our latest recession and recovery, and to understand our recent experience in a national, regional, and historical context. As we demonstrate in this report, we now live and work in an economy dominated by, and in some respects organized around, low-wage work. Where relevant, we benchmark our economic performance or circumstances against that of our national or regional peers. Our attention throughout is directed to the conditions faced by working Iowans and their families. This involves not just our progress toward recovery, or the availability of jobs, but also the quality of those jobs: What do they pay? What sort of benefits do they offer? To what degree do they make it possible for ordinary Iowans to clothe, feed, care for, and educate themselves and their families?
Where we find the state falls short on these important measures, our attention turns to policy solutions. What can or should the state do to ensure, as best it can, the health of its economy and the economic security of its citizens?
In this online version of The State of Working Iowa 2012, most of the graphics that accompany our analysis have interactive elements or menus that allow readers to engage in their own investigations or comparisons — toggling between the Iowa and national numbers on key measures, for example, or choosing the points of comparison. Text in the print version of this report may differ in minor respects from this version in references to graphics, due to the difference in print graphics from interactive graphics.
Colin Gordon, Ph.D. (History), Professor, Department of History, University of Iowa, is a Senior Research Consultant for the Iowa Policy Project. He has authored or co-authored several IPP reports, including most in the State of Working Iowa series, to advance effective and accountable policies that help working families. Among these are Wage Theft in Iowa, and Not Your Father’s Health Insurance: Discount Medical Plans and the Health Care Crisis. He also is the author of New Deals: Business, Labor, and Politics in America, 1920-1935; Dead on Arrival: The Politics of Health Care in Twentieth-Century America; and Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City.