Union percentage lowest-ever nationally: 11.1 percent

U.S. union membership held steady at 14.6 million in 2014 , according to a Jan. 23 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But as a percent of the total workforce, that meant union membership continued to shrink, dropping 0.2 percentage points in 2014 to reach 11.1 percent of the workforce nationwide. That’s the lowest percentage since the government began producing comparable estimates in 1983, when it was 20.1 percent.

Of the 14.6 million union members, 7.2 million were in the public sector and 7.4 million in the private sector. Union membership was 35.7 percent among public-sector workers, more than five times the rate of private-sector workers — 6.6 percent.

The union membership rate was highest among workers aged 55 to 64 (14.1 percent), and lowest among workers aged 16 to 24 (4.5 percent).

Union membership was also concentrated geographically:  Just seven states account for over half of U.S. union members, though they had only about a third of the nationwide workforce overall: California, with 2.5 million union members; New York, 2.0 million; Illinois, 0.8 million; Pennsylvania, 0.7 million; and Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio, 0.6 million each.

New York continued to have the highest union membership rate (24.6 percent), followed by Alaska (22.8 percent), Hawaii (21.8 percent), Washington (16.8 percent), New Jersey (16.5 percent), California (16.3 percent), and Oregon (15.6 percent). North Carolina again had the lowest rate (1.9 percent).

Total union membership in Oregon was estimated at 243,000, and in Washington at 491,000.

The BLS union membership report depicts trends pretty accurately at the national level, but less so at the level of smaller states like Oregon. That’s because it uses data from one quarter of U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, a national sample of about 60,000 households. The smaller the state, the greater the sampling error (the likelihood that the statistical sample might not have been representative.) Oregon has about 1.2 percent of the U.S. population, so its BLS union membership survey results likely come from about 186 households. Thus, responses from just three households would account for an apparent increase in union density from 13.9 percent in 2013 to 15.6 percent in 2014. That explains why Oregon’s union percentage in the BLS report fluctuates significantly year to year, from a low of 13.8 percent in 2006 to a high of 17.1 percent in 2011.

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