By DON McINTOSH
Continuing a 60-year trend, union membership fell in 2022 as a percentage of the U.S. workforce, reaching the lowest level on record. According to the latest annual report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 10.1% of U.S. workers were union members in 2022, down from 10.3% the year before. That’s despite an increase of 273,000 union members during the year, which brought total union membership to 14.3 million. The workforce as a whole is growing at a greater rate: Union membership grew by 1.9%, but the overall workforce grew by 3.9%, adding 5.3 million workers. In 1983, the first year that BLS reported comparable union data, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union members.
- PUBLIC SECTOR IS FIVE-AND-A-HALF TIMES AS UNIONIZED The union membership rate is much higher for public sector workers (33.1%) than for private sector workers (6.0%). In 2022, 7.1 million public sector workers belonged to unions, along with 7.2 million private sector workers.
- AGE, SEX, AND RACE Workers 45 to 54 years old were most likely to be union members (12.6%), and workers 16 to 24 were least likely (4.4%). Men were more likely (10.5%) than women (9.6%) to be union members. And Black workers were most likely to be union members (11.6%), followed by workers classified as white (10.0%), Hispanic or Latino (8.8), or Asian (8.3%).
- BIG (APPARENT) DROP IN OREGON AND WASHINGTON BLS reported an apparent drop in Oregon union membership from 17.8% in 2021 to 15.5% in 2022, as did Washington, from 19% to 18%. But the truth is, BLS union membership statistics are somewhat less reliable at the state level, especially for small states, because they are based on a fractional sample of the Census Bureau’s annual Current Population Survey, a survey of about 60,000 eligible households. The union data are tabulated from one quarter of that sample, and are limited to wage and salary workers, and exclude self-employed workers. Oregon is 1.3% of the U.S. population, so its union data draw from roughly 191 households that responded. That means a 2.3% drop (and similarly-sized increases in other years) could have been erased with different responses from four or five households. BLS reports the state-level data regardless of its statistical significance.
- MOST AND LEAST UNIONIZED STATES According to BLS, the five most unionized states are Hawaii (21.9), New York (20.7), Washington (18.0), California (16.1), and Rhode Island (16.1). Alaska (16.0) was 6th, and Oregon was 7th. The least unionized states were South Carolina (1.7), North Carolina (2.8), South Dakota (3.1), Virginia (3.7), and Utah (3.9). Idaho (4.7) was the 10th least unionized state.
- SHIRKERS BLS reported that 1.2% of the U.S. work force, 1.7 million workers, are covered by a union contract but are not union members. Those are public sector workers who choose not to pay dues, and private sector workers who are in right-to-work states or who work under union contracts that don’t require all represented workers to pay dues or become union members.