By JoAnne Powers, September 12, 2016
A new report from the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute says the decline of unions in the U.S. has actually cost non-union workers billions of dollars in take-home pay over the past three-and-a-half decades. Co-author Jake Rosenfeld is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Washington University in St. Louis:
[Jake Rosenfeld]: “We point directly to the economic impact union decline has on the majority of workers who do not belong to a labor union. And today that would be around 93 or 94 percent of the private sector work force. We argue that union decline is the top culprit when it comes to understanding the deteriorating economic standing of especially private-sector non-union workers and specifically those who lack a four year college degree. The economic fate of this particular group of workers is tied directly to the fortunes of the U.S. labor movement. And we’re not talking about a small group of workers here. Americans without a bachelor’s degree or higher still comprise the vast majority of the U.S. adult population.”
The researchers looked at how wages of private-sector non-union workers were affected by the unionization rate in their own specific industry and geographical region. The report estimates that absent the decline of organized labor since 1979, full-time un-unionized men working in the private sector would earn an average of 2700 more dollars a year, a five percent increase. The figure is much higher for those with less education.
The effects on women workers are somewhat less substantial, but co-author Jennifer Laird of the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University says that could change:
[Jennifer Laird]: “We find that weekly wages would be approximately two-to-three percent higher if union density remained at its 1979 level for all non-union women. Cumulative effects are still sizable. The wage effects of union decline are smaller for women simply because women were not as unionized as men in 1979. It’s also important to note that the labor movement today is becoming increasingly female as unions make inroads into female-dominated caregiving occupations, home health work, that kind of thing. So, if unions are going to continue to fulfil this role of establishing pay and benefit standards within industries, women workers will likely benefit a great deal.”
EPI President Larry Mishel notes that if you take into account wages that have dropped directly from the loss of union jobs, de-unionization has contributed about a third of the total growth of wage inequality among men and about 20% for women. This compares to the effect of globalization, such as increased trade with China and other low-wage countries, which earlier research showed only lowered wages by five percent.
[Lawrence Mishel]: “If we are going to restore robust wage growth and lessen wage inequality, we will have to put front and center restoring the collective bargaining system.”