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Union Membership Rates Down

Economic

The union membership rate—the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions—was 10.5 percent in 2018, down by 0.2 percentage point from 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.7 million in 2018, was little changed from 2017. 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.

The data on union membership are collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 eligible households that obtains information on employment and unemployment among the nation’s civilian noninstitutional population age 16 and over.

Highlights from the 2018 data:

  • The union membership rate of public-sector workers (33.9 percent) continued to be more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.4 percent).
  • The highest unionization rates were among workers in protective service occupations (33.9 percent) and in education, training, and library occupations (33.8 percent).
  • Men continued to have a higher union membership rate (11.1 percent) than women (9.9 percent).
  • Black workers remained more likely to be union members than White, Asian, or Hispanic workers.
  • Nonunion workers had median weekly earnings that were 82 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($860 versus $1,051). (The comparisons of earnings in this release are on a broad level and do not control for many factors that can be important in explaining earnings differences.)
  • Among states, Hawaii and New York had the highest union membership rates (23.1 percent and 22.3 percent, respectively), while North Carolina and South Carolina had the lowest (2.7 percent each).

Industry and Occupation of Union Members

In 2018, 7.2 million employees in the public sector belonged to a union, compared with 7.6 million workers in the private sector. Union membership rates for both public-sector and private-sector workers edged down in 2018. The unionization rate in the private sector (6.4 percent) remained substantially below that for public-sector workers (33.9 percent). Within the public sector, the union membership rate was highest in local government (40.3 percent), which employs many workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as police officers, firefighters, and teachers. Private-sector industries with high unionization rates included utilities (20.1 percent), transportation and warehousing (16.7 percent), and telecommunications (15.4 percent). Low unionization rates occurred in finance (1.3 percent), food services and drinking places (1.3 percent), and professional and technical services (1.5 percent).

Among occupational groups, the highest unionization rates in 2018 were in protective service occupations (33.9 percent) and in education, training, and library occupations (33.8 percent). Unionization rates were lowest in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (2.4 percent); sales and related occupations (3.3 percent); computer and mathematical occupations (3.7 percent); and in food preparation and serving related occupations (3.9 percent).

Selected Characteristics of Union Members

In 2018, the union membership rate continued to be higher for men (11.1 percent) than for women (9.9 percent). The gap between their rates has narrowed considerably since 1983 (the earliest year for which comparable data are available), when rates for men and women were 24.7 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively.
Among major race and ethnicity groups, Black workers continued to have a higher union membership rate in 2018 (12.5 percent) than workers who were White (10.4 percent), Asian (8.4 percent), or Hispanic (9.1 percent).

By age, union membership rates continued to be highest among workers ages 45 to 64. In 2018, 12.8 percent of workers ages 45 to 54 and 13.3 percent of those ages 55 to 64 were union members.

In 2018, the union membership rate for full-time workers (11.6 percent) was about twice the rate for part-time workers (5.4 percent).

Union Representation

In 2018, 16.4 million wage and salary workers were represented by a union. This group includes both union members (14.7 million) and workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union contract (1.6 million).

Earnings

Among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $1,051 in 2018, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $860. 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, age, firm, size, or geographic region.

Union Membership by State

In 2018, 29 states and the District of Columbia had union membership rates below that of the U.S. average, 10.5 percent, while 20 states had rates above it and one state had the same rate. All states in both the East South Central and West South Central divisions had union membership rates below the national average, while all the states in both the Middle Atlantic and Pacific divisions had rates above it.

Eight states had union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2018. North Carolina and South Carolina had the lowest rate (2.7 percent each). The next lowest rates were in Utah (4.1 percent) and Texas and Virginia (4.3 percent each). Two states had union membership rates over 20.0 percent in 2018: Hawaii (23.1 percent) and Ne York (22.3 percent).

The largest numbers of union members lived in California (2.4 million) and New York (1.9 million). Over half of the 14.7 million union members in the U.S. lived in just seven states (California, 2.4 million; New York, 1.9 million; Illinois, 0.8 million; Pennsylvania, 0.7 million; and Michigan, Ohio, and Washington, 0.6 million each), though these states accounted for only about one-third of wage and salary employment nationally.

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