By Don McIntosh
Union members’ share of the total workforce rose in 2020 for the first time in a decade, but not for the right reasons. Total union membership dropped 321,000, but that loss was dwarfed by the 9.6 million drop in overall employment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the latest annual report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Because much of that job loss was in non-union sectors like restaurants, the union share of the workforce grew.
In 2020, 10.8% of the workforce were members of unions, up from 10.3% in 2019. Union membership totaled 14.3 million workers, a drop of 2.2% from 2019.
By age, union membership continued to be highest among workers over 45: 13.2% of workers 45 to 54, and 13.0% of those 55 to 64. Least unionized were workers aged 16 to 24: just 4.4%.
And as they have every year, union workers continued to out-earn nonunion workers—19.4% more, on average. Median weekly earnings were $1,144 for union members, compared to $958 for nonunion workers. That adds up to $9,672 a year.
Relative to other states, Oregon jumped in the rankings in 2020, and is now tied with California to be the 7th most unionized state. Washington ranked 5th, and Idaho was in 39th place.
BLS has been collecting the same data with the same methods since 1983. The agency uses the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey by the Census Bureau of about 60,000 eligible households. CPS asks for information on employment and earnings among the nation’s civilian non-institutional population age 16 and over. In 1983, the union membership rate was 20.1% and there were 17.7 million union workers.
Unions — as a share of the workforce, and in total numbers
- Public sector 34.8% 7.2 million workers
- Private sector 6.3% 7.1 million workers
Most (and least) unionized states
- #1 Hawaii 23.7%
- #2 New York 22%
- #3 Rhode Island 17.8%
- #4 Alaska 17.7%
- #5 Washington 17.4%
- # 7 (TIE) Oregon 16.2%
- # 7 (TIE) California 16.2%
- #39 Idaho 5.6%
- #46 (TIE) Virginia 4.4%
- #46 (TIE) Tennessee 4.4%
- #47 South Dakota 4.3
- #48 Utah 3.7
- #49 North Carolina 3.1%
- #50 South Carolina 2.9%
MORE: Read the full report here.