More women, college graduates are union members
By Mark Gruenberg 15 November 2009
|WASHINGTON - In 1983, a typical union member was a white man, often working in a factory. One of every two unionists had a high-school diploma, at most. Twenty-five years later, that’s all changed.
|The Changing Face Of Labor, 1983-2008, by the Center for Economic Policy and Research, documents what workers have seen with their own eyes, both in the overall workforce and in their unions in the last quarter of a century:
Almost one of every two union workers is a woman. The white share shrank. White men were an absolute majority of all unionists in 1983. Now they’re three of every eight. The proportion of Hispanic-named workers doubled. There are more -- a lot more -- college grads. And only one of every nine unionists works in a factory, while almost half work in public sector jobs. Those are big changes in the labor movement.
Implications of the change are large, says CEPR senior economist John Schmitt, the study’s author: “The view that the typical union worker is a white male manufacturing worker may have been correct a quarter of a century ago, but it's not an accurate description of those in today's labor movement. The unionized workforce is changing with the country. The fastest growing groups in the overall economy are also the fastest growing groups in the labor movement."
Using Census Bureau data, the center found:
• In 1983, five of every nine workers were men. By last year, only 51.7% were men, and 48.3% women. In unions, the proportion of female members shot up from 35.4% in 1983 to 45.2% last year. If current trends continue, women will be the majority of union members before 2020.
• In 1983, just over half (also 51.7%) of all union workers were white men. Twenty-five years later, only 38% are, while white women are catching up (31% of all unionists in 2008). Other groups, male and female, are also increasing their shares.
• In 1983, union members were more likely to have high school diplomas or less (49%) than to graduate college (22.7%). By 2008 that flipped. One-third of unionists had a high school diploma or less (4.9% had less), but three of every eight (37.5%) had at least a 4-year college degree. In both years, the rest had some college education.
• A smaller share of public workers are unionists, but a larger share of unionists are public workers. While the union share of public sector workers -- police, firefighters, teachers, etc. -- slipped from 45.5% in 1983 to 40.7% in 2008, the share of union members who are public-sector workers is now almost half (48.9%) of all unionists, up from 34.4% 25 years ago.
• Some 61.5% of union women work in the public sector, up 14 percentage points in 25 years. Only 38.4% of male unionists are in the public sector, up 11 percentage points in that era. The public sector stayed relatively static in its share of the whole U.S. workforce, at just over one-sixth.
• Only one in nine factory workers was unionized in 2008, down from 30% union density a quarter of a century before. That’s a larger slide than manufacturing’s share of the overall workforce, which declined from just over 22% in 1983 to 12% last year.
• Hispanic-named workers more than doubled, from 5.6% of the whole workforce and 5.8% of unionists in 1983 to 14% of all workers and 12.2% of unionists in 2008.
• The workforce is aging, and union workers are even older than the others. The median age -- that point where half the workers are above an age and half below -- for all workers in 2008 was 38, up five years in a quarter of a century. The median age for unionists also rose by five years, to 43.
• Unions had a lot of trouble attracting younger workers in 1983 -- and even more now. “The share of 16-24-year-olds in the union workforce has fallen from 10.4% in 1983 to 6% in 2008, and the share of 25-34-year-olds is down 9.8 percentage points, from 29.2% to 19.4%. The age group that experienced the biggest increase was 45-54-year-olds, up 9.9 percentage points, to 29.4% in 2008,” CEPR’s report said.
“These changes generally follow the contours of the larger workforce, but union workers have moved out of manufacturing and into higher education and the public sector faster than the overall workforce. Unions incorporated large shares of Latinos, Asian-Pacific Americans, and recent immigrants, but have not matched the pace of these groups’ growth in the economy,” the report added.
“In the next decade, the rise of women to majority status in the labor movement and the likely continued influx of racial and ethnic minorities into unions are likely to be among the most important developments for organized labor,” it concluded.
Mark Gruenberg writes for Press Associates, Inc., news service. Used by permission.
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