Union membership rates held steady in 2017

America’s union membership rate held steady in 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Jan. 19: 10.7 percent of wage and salary workers were union members, the same as 2016. Union members made up 6.5 percent private-sector workers and 34.4 percent of public-sector workers.

With the work force growing, the hold-steady percentage meant 262,000 more union members: 14.8 million altogether, 7.2 million in the public sector and 7.6 million workers in the private sector. Another 1.6 million workers were covered by a union contract but were not members, a situation that’s more common in right-to-work states, or with “fair share” paying non-members in the public sector.

The data also show:

  • Union membership rates are still slightly higher among men than women (11.4 to 10 percent.) but the gap has narrowed considerably since 1983, when rates for men and women were 24.7 and 14.6 percent.
  • Union membership rates are slightly higher among Black workers (12.6 percent) than White (10.6 percent), Hispanic (9.3 percent), or Asian (8.9 percent) workers.
  • Union membership rates continued to be highest among workers ages 45 to 64, 13.2 – 13.5 percent, compared with 4.7 percent of workers age 16-24, and 9.4 percent of those 25 to 34.

Average weekly earnings for union members were 26 percent higher than for nonunion workers ($1,041 versus $829). Some of that difference comes from the fact that union members tend to be older, work at larger firms, and are concentrated in high-wage geographic regions, industries and occupations.

New York continued to have the highest union membership rate (23.8 percent), followed by Hawaii (21.3), Washington (18.8) and Alaska (18.1). Oregon was number 11, with 14.9 percent unionized. California had 15.5 percent.

South Carolina continued to have the lowest (2.6 percent) followed by North Carolina (3.4 percent) and Utah (3.9 percent). Idaho, with 4.8 percent, was 9th lowest.

Within the public sector, the union membership rate was highest in local government (40.1 percent), which employs many workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters.

Private-sector industries with high unionization rates included utilities (23.0 percent), transportation and warehousing (17.3 percent), telecommunications (16.1 percent), and construction (14.0 percent).

Industries with the lowest unionization rates were finance (1.1 percent), food services and drinking places (1.4 percent), and professional and technical services (1.7 percent).

The figures are come from a monthly survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau of about 60,000 households that asks for information on employment among the nation’s civilian non-institutional population age 16 and over. The union data are tabulated from one quarter of the sample and are limited to wage and salary workers (self-employed workers are excluded).

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