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The Death of Labor Unions in America

Taken from March 2013 Vol 46, Intelligent Investor (Part 4)


According to data collected from the Current Population Survey, and reported by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2012 the union membership rate in the U.S. was 11.3%, down from 11.8% in 2011.

The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.4 million, also declined over the year. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.

Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (35.9%) more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.6%).

Workers in education, training, and library occupations and in protective service occupations had the highest unionization rates, at 35.4% and 34.8%, respectively.

Black workers were more likely to be union members than were white, Asian, or Hispanic workers.

Among states, New York continued to have the highest union membership rate (23.2%), and North Carolina again had the lowest rate (2.9%).

In 2012, 7.3 million employees in the public sector belonged to a union, compared with 7.0 million union workers in the private sector. The union membership rate for public-sector workers (35.9%) was substantially higher than the rate for private-sector workers (6.6%). Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 41.7%. This group includes workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters.

Private-sector industries with high unionization rates included transportation and utilities (20.6%) and construction (13.2%). Low unionization rates occurred in agriculture and related industries (1.4%) and in financial activities (1.9%).

Among occupational groups, education, training, and library occupations (35.4%) and protective service occupations (34.8%) had the highest unionization rates in 2012. Sales and related occupations (2.9%) and farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (3.4%) had the lowest unionization rates.

Selected Characteristics of Union Members

The union membership rate was higher for men (12.0%) than for women (10.5%) in 2012.

The gap between their rates has narrowed considerably since 1983, when the rate for men was 24.7% and the rate for women was 14.6%.

In 2012, among major race and ethnicity groups, black workers had a higher union membership rate (13.4%) than workers who were white (11.1%), Asian (9.6%), or Hispanic (9.8%). Black men had the highest union membership rate (14.8%), while Asian men had the lowest rate (8.9%).

By age, the union membership rate was highest among workers ages 55 to 64 (14.9%). The lowest union membership rate occurred among those ages 16 to 24 (4.2%).

Full-time workers were about twice as likely as part-time workers to be union members, 12.5% compared with 6.0%.

In 2012, 15.9 million wage and salary workers were represented by a union. This group includes both union members (14.4 million) and workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union contract (1.6 million).

In 2012, among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $943, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $742. In addition to coverage by a collective bargaining agreement, this earnings difference reflects a variety of influences, including variations in the distributions of union members and nonunion employees by occupation, industry, firm size, or geographic region. 

Three states had union membership rates over 20.0% in 2012: New York (23.2%), Alaska (22.4%), and Hawaii (21.6%).

About half of the 14.4 million union members in the U.S. lived in just seven states (California, 2.5 million; New York, 1.8 million; Illinois, 0.8 million; Pennsylvania, 0.7 million; and Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio, 0.6 million each), though these states accounted for only about one-third of wage and salary employment nationally.

State union membership levels depend on both the state wage and salary employment level and the union membership rate. Texas, with a union membership rate of 5.7%, had about one-third as many union members as New York, despite having 2.7 million more wage and salary employees.

Conversely, North Carolina and Hawaii had comparable numbers of union members (112,000 and 116,000, respectively), though North Carolina's wage and salary employment level (3.8 million) was more than seven times that of Hawaii (537,000).



 Reference: BLS


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