U.S. Union Membership, Both Rate and Number, Continues Dropping

Huge gap in number between older workers and younger


"Is there anything in the Endangered Species Act we can use?"

According to figures released today by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership rates have dropped nearly in half over the past 30 years, plunging from 20.1 percent in 1983 to 11.3 percent in 2012.

The total number of unionized workers has dropped from 17.7 million workers to 14.4 million workers.

In other details that probably don't come as much of a surprise:

  • Public sector employees had the highest rate of union membership: 35.9 percent. By comparison, private sector employees saw a 6.6 percent unionization rate.
  • Among the public sector employees, local government workers (like teachers and police officers) had the highest unionization rate, 41.7 percent.
  • Union membership rates are much, much higher among those aged 55-64 (14.9 percent) than among the young (4.2 percent). Puts that pension protectionism into perspective, doesn't it?
  • About 1.6 million workers are covered by union contracts without being actual members of the unions. That's really not very many people and something to keep in mind when union representatives complain about the "free rider" issue with right-to-work laws. It will be interesting to see if that number increases if these laws catch on.
  • Median weekly earnings by union workers were about $200 higher than non-unionized counterparts. Location may play a role in addition to collective bargaining, though.
  • About half of unionized employees live in just seven U.S. States: California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and New Jersey. These seven states also coincidentally pop up frequently in coverage reachable via our "state fiscal crisis" tag.

Read the whole report here (pdf).