Every month, The Hamilton Project tracks the “jobs gap,” which is the number of jobs that need to be created in order to return to pre-recession employment levels while still absorbing the workers entering the labor force each month. Here, the Project compares changes in employment levels since the onset of the Great Recession across states.
Minimum Wage and Share of Workers Earning Equal to or Less Than 150 Percent of the Minimum Wage in 2012, by State
Every state in the country has a substantial share of workers who would be impacted by an increase in the minimum wage. In 2012, Montana had the highest share of workers—37.2 percent—with wages equal to or less than 150 percent of the minimum wage. Even in Alaska, which boasts higher wages compared to the rest of the country, 16.9 percent of workers had wages equal to or lower than 150 percent of the minimum. Not surprisingly, the 18 states with a higher minimum wage level than the federal benchmark tended to have higher shares of workers with wages within 150 percent of the minimum wage. However, in every state in the country, at least one in six workers had wages that were equal to 150 percent of the minimum wage or lower. This chart shows the share of workers earning equal to or less than 150 percent of the minimum wage in every state in 2012. By hovering over a state, you can also see the minimum wage in 2012 in each state.
Why is the job-finding rate so low? The basic reason is that job openings remain depressed and there are a lot of unemployed workers competing for those jobs. The number of job openings fell by more than 40 percent between 2007 and 2009 and is almost 15 percent lower between 2007 and 2013.
It has always been harder to find work the longer you are unemployed, but the situation facing today’s workers is exceptional. No matter how long a worker has been unemployed, the odds that they find a job are far lower than before the Great Recession. Figure 1 shows the likelihood of finding a job as measured in the monthly Current Population Survey data.
SNAP is a key program for providing assistance to Americans when they need support the most. This can be seen in the correlation between SNAP participation and unemployment rates; SNAP participation rises during economic downturns and falls during recoveries. In 2013, the average participation rate for SNAP was 19.4 percent of the U.S. population, serving 47.7 million individuals each month, compared to a pre-recession participation rate of only 11.3 percent in 2007. As shown in the figure above, SNAP historically has tracked rates of unemployment and economic downturns closely (denoted by the teal dotted line and gray bars, respectively). SNAP participation rates (as seen in the shaded blue area) are expected to fall as the economy continues to recover, as would be expected based on the pattern observed in previous recessions. By 2020, the participation rate is projected to revert to 2009 levels—about 14.3 percent of the population.
Household Food spending as a Fraction of the Thrifty Food Plan Minimum Spending Target for Households under 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level
SNAP is designed to supplement recipients’ purchasing power so that through a combination of SNAP benefits and their own spending out of available cash resources recipients can afford to purchase enough food to feed their families under the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). However, the TFP minimum spending target for food is based on outdated and inappropriate assumptions. In particular, the TFP implicitly assumes that households have unlimited time to prepare food, and therefore are able to cook meals primarily from scratch instead of using prepared ingredients. Over the past twenty years the majority of low-income families spent more on food than would have been suggested by the cost of a minimally adequate food budget that the benefit formula is based on. This difference in spending compared to the TFP target may indicate that some families face higher food prices than those assumed by the TFP.
SNAP benefits are an effective tool for mitigating food insecurity since they increase a family’s ability to purchase food. A recent study by USDA revealed that SNAP participation is associated with a reduction in overall food insecurity rates by 10 percentage points over a six-month period from the time a household enters the program. Furthermore, food insecurity rates for children decreased by about one-third during this same period. Hunger in the United States spiked both during and after the Great Recession. In 2012 over 14 percent of all households were food insecure at some point throughout the year. Furthermore, 20 percent of households with children experienced food insecurity. These rates increased nearly 35 percent from their pre-recession levels.
Household composition of families in the struggling lower-middle class varies substantially from the household composition of families in poverty. Of families with income below the federal poverty level (FPL) (approximately 7.1 million families), 70 percent are headed by a single parent (61 percent are single female parents), 24 percent are headed by a married couple with one or two earners, and 6 percent are headed by a married couple with no earners. The composition of the struggling lower-middle class—defined here as working-age families with children under age eighteen whose income places them between 100 and 250 percent of the FPL—is markedly different from families in poverty in terms of marriage and presence of earners.
This figure displays the percentage of income generated by the addition of a secondary earner’s income that a family takes home after accounting for payroll and federal income taxes, SNAP benefits, and the cost of child care. Each set of bars represents a family of four (two adults, two children) headed by a full-time worker that earns between 100 and 250 percent of the federal minimum wage (i.e., $15,080 to $37,700 annually). The green and purple bars represent the take-home earnings generated from adding a part-time and full-time secondary earner, respectively, with the same hourly wage. In all eight scenarios represented, a family ultimately keeps less than half of the earnings generated by the secondary earner.
Highest Educational Attainment of Family Head, by Income Relative to the Federal Poverty Level (FPL)
College attainment differs markedly by poverty status. 33 percent of household family heads below 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) attended at least some college, although just 6 percent of those family heads have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Among household family heads with income between 100 and 250 percent of the FPL, 48 percent have attended some college, and 14 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. In stark contrast to those living at or below 250 percent of the FPL, 77 percent of household family heads above 250 percent of the FPL attended at least some college, and about half have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Only a very small share of this group (4 percent) did not earn a high school diploma.