New Report Finds Greater Diversity in U.S. Union Membership

Categories: Economic Security, News

The popular image of a typical union member in the United States has been of a middle-age White man working in a factory. While that may have been true a quarter century ago, it is far from accurate today, as a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) finds.

Almost half of unionized workers (45 percent) in 2008 were women, up from 35 percent in 1983, according to “The Changing Face of Labor 1983 – 2008.” The report, which analyzes demographic trends in the union workforce over the last 25 years, predicts that, based on current trends, women will be the majority of union members before 2020. 

The report also found that:  

  • Latinos (12 percent) are the fastest growing ethnic group in the labor movement, up from just 5.8 percent in 1983.
  • Asians (4.6 percent) have nearly doubled as a percentage of the union workforce since 1989 (2.5 percent). 
  • The share of Black workers in the unionized workforce has held fairly steady at 13 percent since 1983, while there has been a large decline in the representation of White workers in the same period.
The report clearly shows the labor movement mirroring larger demographic changes in the United States, which is a positive trend. But the fact remains that unions in the United States have lost significant ground — especially in the private sector, where today less than one-in-ten workers is unionized, compared to a peak of one-in-three in the mid 1950’s. This shift is reflected in other findings of the new CEPR report:  

  • Only about one-in-ten unionized workers worked in manufacturing, a decline from nearly 30 percent in 1983.
  • Nearly half of unionized workers are now in the public sector, up from just over one-third in 1983.

The decline of unions has been identified as a major factor leading to a lower standard of living for millions of American workers. That’s why the labor movement, along with supporters of a more fair distribution of the nation’s wealth, is working for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). If enacted, EFCA would make it easier for all workers to join unions by giving them the option to choose how to form a union, either by ballot or by getting a majority of employees to sign a union-authorization card.