Red State Vs. Blue State: Mapping the Job Market Battlegrounds

The promise of more and better jobs for American workers was President Trump’s keystone message during the 2016 election. Riding the wave of populist promises to make America great again, the GOP also held control of both the House and the Senate. Come November 2018, this may well change based on the current state of the job markets in several of the key battlegrounds.

Most pundits, including Republican Party strategists, agree the House is all but lost to the Democrats. In response, Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has seized the midterm primaries as an opportunity to remind donors that the Senate is not a lock.

In a recent Washington Post interview, McConnell identified nine battleground states he believes will decide which party will take control of the Senate in November. Since the promise of an improving job market won seats for so many Republicans in 2016, we thought it useful to examine the state of the job market today, based on the red state/blue state divide established in the last election.

The Big Picture

Using the ZipRecruiter Best Job Markets Index, we built a heatmap showing the overall health of the job markets in all 50 states and Washington D.C. Our index includes more than just the unemployment rate. It also factors in cost of living and a real-time gauge of job opportunity using the ZipRecruiter Opportunity Index, showing not just where the jobs are located, but also where people can earn enough to enjoy a high standard of living.

At first glance, it may appear that red states are home to better job markets overall. While it is true that four red states (Wyoming, The Dakotas, and Iowa) boast the highest scores, red states also represent a higher proportion of job markets with an index score below 50.

This is due, in part, to the fact that there are simply more red states in total, representing a greater spread across the job market health spectrum. It’s worth noting, the median index scores for all of the job markets in red states and blue states respectively each come out to about 50, which we consider to be an average overall market.

While most blue states tend toward the middle of the index, they still offer great job opportunities. California, for instance, comes in with a middling total job market score of 48, but still has a relatively high Opportunity Index of 0.92, representing about one job opening for every job seeker in the state.

The score is pulled down in most blue states primarily due to high housing costs and a general lack of affordability, which is quite the opposite in the red states.

Job Markets in the 2018 Battlegrounds

The nine states McConnell called out as in play for the battle over control of the Senate are: Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia and Florida.

Five of these nine battlegrounds have job index scores below 50 and two stand out with particularly low scores, possibly indicating an electorate looking for a change.

Nevada has the lowest job index score of all the blue states. With an index score of 34, it has the third lowest score of all the states, coming in just one point higher than South Carolina and Mississippi, which are tied for having the lowest job market scores in the country.

Still considered a swing state, Nevada turned blue in 2016 and has the distinction of being the only state in the midterm election with a Republican Senator incumbent. Nevada also has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country—4.5% in August and nearly one full percentage point higher than the national rate.

The Senate seat contest in Florida is the opposite situation than in Nevada. Democratic Senator Bill Nelson is up for reelection in a decidedly red state. Rather than hoping for the incumbent to hold his seat, as they are in Nevada, the GOP is placing their bets on Republican Governor Rick Scott to reclaim the seat in order to maintain a Republican majority.

Immigration, healthcare, and gun control will all be hot topics of debate as November approaches. But given the low job market rankings in the majority of the battleground states, especially in Florida and Nevada, candidates would be wise to address how they plan to improve the employment situation for their constituents as well.

Methodology: We used the ZipRecruiter Job Market Index, which combines ZipRecruiter data on the total number of job applicants compared to job openings in each state as of September 2018 with the state unemployment rate and statistics on household income, median earnings, housing affordability, the number of hospital beds per capita, and commute time, to determine an overall job market score for each state. We then built an interactive map using data visualization software, Tableau, to create a heat map that includes the job index score for each state color coded based upon the final results of the 2016 presidential election.

Written by

ZipRecruiter's Data Journalist, Jeffery writes about emerging job market trends using proprietary ZipRecruiter data.

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