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Strong job growth restores Iowa employment

Published: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 10:01 a.m. CDT

Just before the “Great Recession” shifted into high gear in the spring of 2008, Iowa laid claim to 1,614,653 jobs — which was a record high.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show the unemployment rate was at 3.8 percent, and the labor force participation rate stood near an all-time high of 72.5 percent.

But the recession took a toll, slashing thousands of jobs per month throughout 2009 and 2010. By November 2009, Iowa had lost 55,679 and the unemployment rate stood at 6.3 percent. The state’s ensuing job growth was anemic thereafter, failing to keep up with Iowa’s population growth — even though it, too, was falling in response to the recession.

The state economy has slowly but surely been climbing back since August 2011, adding roughly 2,200 jobs per month. In February, Iowa nearly reached its all-time employment high set six years ago, with 1,610,094 jobs. In fact, given the state’s brisk job-growth patterns over the last three years the employment record is likely broken by now.

If this pattern continues, the state will overcome its job deficit well before most other states. Because the population grew during the economic downturn, the state faces a jobs deficit.

Six years ago, the state population stood at about 3,017,000, and 53.5 percent of the population had a job. To reach that same population-to-employment ratio, the economy would need to create about 67,000 jobs over the next two years. At the current pace of 2,200 jobs per month, the state is set to clear the jobs deficit by August 2016.

Many states aren’t even close to closing their jobs deficit, let alone reaching prerecession employment levels.

Illinois, for example, has about 360,000 fewer jobs today than it did in January 2008, and has a jobs deficit exceeding 500,000 when considering its population growth.

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