- The Washington Times
Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Membership in labor unions fell to 10.3% of the nation’s workforce last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Wednesday, continuing the steady decline of a key Democratic constituency that traditionally wielded enormous clout.

The drop of 170,000 workers, and 0.2 percentage points, came despite a strong U.S. economy that added more than 2.1 million jobs in 2019.


Since 1983, the first year in which the bureau said it had comparable data, union membership has fallen from 17.7 million and 20.1 percent of the workforce to its current low.

Similar declines were registered last year, when membership dropped to 10.5 percent, BLS said.

Union membership traditionally has been stronger among male workers, although the gap with female workers has narrowed over the years, and also higher among blacks in the workforce than white or Asian workers, federal statisticians reported.

In the private workforce, the Labor Department shows an even more precipitous decline in union membership, with now less than 7 percent of private workers on union rolls.

Some economists argue shrinking union membership is also a factor in what has been slow wage growth. Although wages have grown at a higher clip under President Trump, the $1,095 median weekly pay for union members topped the $892 median for nonmembers last year, according to the BLS.

In its heyday with manufacturing making up a larger slice of the economy, organized labor wielded enormous clout. Since then, however, union membership in manufacturing has fallen to a record low 8.6 percent of the workforce, the latest report showed.

Today, unions have seen most of their strength concentrated in government and teaching jobs, and in fact one of the few growth spots for unions in 2019 came among state government workers, where membership rose to 29.4 percent from 28.6 percent.

In the private workforce, the Labor Department shows an even more precipitous decline in union membership, with now less than 7 percent of private workers on union rolls.

Indeed, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, the primary unions to which public school teachers belong, together account for one of the biggest campaign contributors for Democratic politicians.

The donations from teachers’ unions grew from $4.3 million in 2004 to reach a record high in the 2016 presidential election year when they topped $32 million, virtually all of it going to Democratic candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.


Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.