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Union Membership Rate in the United States on the Decline

Jan. 23, 2013
The rate of union membership in the United States declined in 2012, according to new data released Jan. 23 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This decline follows a trend extending back at least 3 decades – in 1983, 20.1 percent of wage and salary workers were union members, compared to only 11.3 percent in 2012.

The percent of union membership among wage and salary workers in the United States declined from 11.8 percent in 2011 to 11.3 percent in 2012, according to a new report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year’s decline appears to be part of a trend: The United States counted 17.7 million union workers in 1983 compared to 14.4 million union workers in 2012.

"Union jobs are good jobs,” said Deputy Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris. “They are essential to growing and maintaining a strong middle class, which is vital to the economic health of this country. It is critical that we continue to ensure all people have a voice in the workplace, and protect the right to organize and bargain collectively."

The BLS data shows that in 2012, full-time union members enjoyed higher median weekly earnings – $943 – than nonunion full-time workers, who earned a median of $742 a week. Harris added that the other data has suggested that union members have greater access to employment-based benefits such as health insurance, retirement savings plans and sick and vacation leave.

"Together, strong wages and benefits are good for workers and good for families,” he said.

Additional highlights from BLS’s data on union membership include:

  • Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (35.9 percent) more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.6 percent).
  • Workers in education, training and library occupations and in protective service occupations had the highest unionization rates, at 35.4 and 34.8 percent, respectively.
  • Sales and related occupations (2.9 percent) and farming, fishing and forestry occupations (3.4 percent) had the lowest unionization rates.
  • Black workers were more likely to be union members than were white, Asian, or Hispanic workers.
  • The union membership rate was higher for men at 12 percent than for women at 10.5 percent in 2012. This gap has narrowed considerably since 1983, when the rate for men was 24.7 percent vs. 14.6 percent for women.
  • By age, union membership rate was highest among workers ages 55 to 64 (14.9 percent) and lowest among those ages 16 to 24 (4.2 percent).
  • New York continued to have the highest union membership rate at 23.2 percent, while North Carolina again had the lowest rate at 2.9 percent. (View this table to see a breakdown of union membership by state.)

The data on union membership were collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households that obtains information on employment and unemployment among the nation's civilian non-institutional population ages 16 and over.

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