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Union Membership by the Numbers

Labor unions have been in the news quite a bit lately. The Supreme Court is reviewing a case that could mean the end for certain public-sector unions. And, it seems there is some general concern about how these organizations will adapt to a changing economy. So, let's put all of the emotion surrounding the topic of modern trade unions aside and focus on some facts, in order to gain some clarity on the state of today's labor unions.

Labor unions have been in the news quite a bit lately. The Supreme Court is reviewing a case that could mean the end for certain public-sector unions. And, it seems there is some general concern about how these organizations will adapt to a changing economy. So, let’s put all of the emotion surrounding the topic of modern trade unions aside and focus on some facts, in order to gain some clarity on the state of today’s labor unions.

firefighters 

(Photo Credit: Muffet/Flickr)

Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released their latest Union Members Summary report. It presented critical data that could help us better understand the current state of union membership in the U.S. Let’s take a closer look at some of their findings.

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1. Public-sector workers (especially certain occupations) are sticking to the union, at least for now.

The report found that public-sector workers had much higher union membership rates than private-sector workers (35.2 percent and 6.7 percent respectively), and some occupations had especially high rates of membership. Protective-service occupations (like firefighters and police officers) had the highest unionized rates, 36.3 percent. Education, training, and library occupations (teachers, librarians, etc.) had the next highest rates of unionization, 35.5 percent.

These rates could change drastically though in the years to come, depending upon how Right-to-Work laws change and how the Supreme Court rules on the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

Be sure to check out this table to see data on the membership rates of other occupations.

2. Membership varies, pretty dramatically, by state.

Union membership has been steadily declining for decades, but the changes haven’t been the same in every state. This report concluded that, currently, New York has the highest rate of union membership at 24.7 percent, and South Carolina has the lowest membership, just 2.1 percent. Right-to-Work laws could be contributing to these differences. Wisconsin, which made a change to their laws in 2015, saw the most dramatic decline in union membership over the course of the past year.

3. Demographics:

Men, once again, have a higher membership rate than women, but the difference is slight, 11.5 percent compared with 10.6 percent. The BLS further broke down the data based upon other factors like age and race. Asian and Hispanic workers had the lowest rates of membership at just under 10 percent. White workers’ membership is about 12 percent, and black workers (the most likely to be union members) come in at a rate of about 15 percent.

4. Union members earn more than nonunion workers.

Perhaps the most contentious aspect of the labor union debate relates to whether unions actually help or hurt workers’ pay. But, the results of this report might settle that once and for all. The median earnings of nonunion workers were 79 percent of the earnings of union members. The median weekly pay for a nonunion worker was found to be $776, while union members earned $980.

Be sure to check out the full report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for more information.

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