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Who belongs to unions?

John Judis summarizes a report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research:

[I]n the last twenty-five years, the proportion of unionized workers with college-degrees has gone from 20.4 to 37.5 percent. If you add workers who have attended but not graduated from college, you have 66.4 percent of the unionized workforce. Or to look at it in the opposite way, in 1983, 49.4 percent of unionized workers had not attended college; in 2008, only 33.6 percent. The numbers are even higher women workers, who have gone from 35 to 45 percent of the unionized workforce. Among women workers in unions, 49.4 percent have college degrees. Fifty years ago, the typical union member was a male auto or construction worker who never went to college. Today, it is increasingly a teacher or nurse with a college degree.

"It’s good news," Judis comments, "that the upper end of the workforce is unionized. They provide a formidable political force and have been a principal reason why America is not an entirely conservative country. But the other side to the story is that the relative absence of unionization in the middle and lower ranges of the working class has left large swaths of the electorate disorganized, atomized, [and] relatively poorly paid."

By Ezra Klein  |  November 13, 2009; 10:09 AM ET
Categories:  Unions  
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"But the other side to the story is that the relative absence of unionization in the middle and lower ranges of the working class has left large swaths of the electorate disorganized, atomized, [and] relatively poorly paid."

Part of that is probably due to the significant amount of immigrants and children of immigrants among the lower-income labor pool (I'm not just talking about Mexican labor, either). Unionization tends to be tricky among these workers, because of communication and cultural difficulties to overcome.

It has happened before - there were similar difficulties organizing heavily immigrant labor in the West (particularly the Mining Industry) back in the late 19th/early 20th century.

Posted by: guardsmanbass | November 13, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

What percentage are gov't workers?

Posted by: luko | November 13, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Yep this is entirely due to most unions shrinking and government unions staying constant.

Posted by: endaround | November 13, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

A very good case can be made that the precipitous decline in the proportion of the workforce that is unionized over the past 50 years helps explain both the increased income inequality of recent years, and the growing political conservatism of middle and lower-income whites, especially white males.

The typical male middle-income worker of the 1950s and 1960s was most likely to be employed as a blue-collar unionized factory worker. Today the typical male middle-income worker is likely to be employed in some low-rung non-unionized office or sales position. From the 1930s-1960s, men were more likely to vote Democratic than were women. They were also more likely to consider themselves Liberal than were women. That has completely changed over the past 35-40 years as union influence has declined. Unions were once a powerful politically liberal staunchly pro-Democratic force in American politics. Sadly, that is no longer the case. Less than 15% of the workforce today is unionized, whereas fifty years ago, almost 40% of the workforce was unionized. The American worker generally is worse off for that.

Posted by: OHIOCITIZEN | November 13, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

I thought this whole obsession with Labor Union for Progressive politics, we are done with.

Any time we talk about Labor Union, hardly good comes out.

Here in Silicon Valley, we regular workers get canned and 'mutilated' from employment perspective and there is no Union. And WE DO NOT WANT UNION - yes this is from a guy who is simple a tech worker who has lost jobs, who is seen friends canned, spouses canned and so on.

That Lord of the Valley - Eric Schmidt, Google CEO - was asked other day about what would happen to Google employees who were removed from the company, will Google take them back. He was non-committal. Further, he mentioned that 'as long as those employees maintain the currency of skill' those will by hired by other companies. Now in this Great Recession, these Valley workers still have to find jobs which are not coming (all the profits with companies, that is by 'cost cutting') while jobs are still vanishing to cheaper outsourcing stations. With high cost of living in Valley, that is double / triple whammy. That is life, you deal with it.

But still no one talks about Unions here and NOBODY WANTS to talk about unions here; while continue to vote Dems.

In the end the whole history of last two centuries is that Labor Unions are in the end detrimental to our longer term prosperity; no matter how much gloss all these Progressives try to put on.

So I would say, get off this Labor obsession and do some real reforms where jobs are created across the board and those jobs are protected from excesses of few on Wall Street.

Posted by: umesh409 | November 13, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

"It’s good news," Judis comments, "that the upper end of the workforce is unionized."

Huh? The fact that union members are increasingly college graduates does not mean that college graduates are increasingly unionized.

Posted by: tomtildrum | November 13, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

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