The latest data show that 2017 brought only slight gains in union membership numbers overall. However, 76 percent of those gains were among workers aged 34 and younger.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released the latest Union Members Summary. The report shows how union membership in the United States changed from 2016 to 2017.
Some of the news isn’t great: the union membership rate, which measures the percentage of workers who belong to unions, was unchanged at 10.7 percent. However, the total number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions edged up by 262,000 from the year prior. The number of union members is now at 14.8 million.
Millennials Accounted for a Large Percentage of the Growth
There were 262,000 new union members last year, and 198,000 of them were under the age of 35. That accounts for more than three-quarters of the gain, despite the fact that these young workers only make up 40 percent of the total employment population.
The number of workers between the ages of 35 and 54 who are union members declined over the course of 2017. Numbers were also up among members ages 55 and older, but not at the surprising rate measured among the group under the age of 35.
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Trends May Be Changing
Union membership among young workers is generally lower than the rates of membership among older workers. Currently, about 7.7 percent of workers ages 16 through 34 are member of a union. The rate is 12.6 percent for workers ages 35 and above. However, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) notes that of the 858,000 new jobs for workers under the age of 35 last year, almost one in four were union jobs. This trend could continue to impact union membership rates for years to come.
The EPI also explains that young workers are joining unions for other reasons, including increased work insecurity, the rise of part-time work and unpaid internships and an increase in numbers of contract workers.
The impact of the great recession also may have helped millennials understand the importance of unionizing.
Millennials Appreciate Unions
The Pew Research Center released a report a few years back that reflects this generation’s appreciation of unions. Researchers found that 55 percent of millennials have a favorable view of unions. Only 29 percent said they view them negatively.
Across the board, millennials seem to support unions more than their older peers. Only 31 percent of Republicans aged 35-49 view unions favorably; 51 percent see them unfavorably. But among Republicans aged 18-34, 45 percent have a favorable view of unions, while 44 percent have an unfavorable one.
Labor unions have a long history of helping workers in this country. They protect collective-bargaining power and negotiate better hours, wages, benefits, job security and working conditions.
Thankfully, younger workers seem to understand the importance of unions. Let’s hope, for the sake of all workers, that it’s enough to allow unions to continue to do their vital work for decades to come.
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