Economic Snapshot | Unions and Labor Standards

Middle Class Incomes Suffer Without Collective Bargaining

As a broad attack on unions continues, with Republican politicians leading efforts to eliminate unions or weaken them in Illinois and Wisconsin, Missouri and West Virginia, and county-by-county in Kentucky, it’s wise to think about what’s at stake. We now know what happens when employers hold most of the cards and employee power is diminished: profits and CEO pay skyrocket, and worker pay flat lines.

It is no coincidence that, as the Figure shows, the share of income going to the broad middle class began to fall as union membership and power were reduced. The middle 60 percent of families depend primarily on wages for their income, so as the unions’ ability to raise wages diminished, so did the ability of middle class families to earn a fair share of the nation’s growing income. Research has shown that as unions were less able to establish wage standards the wages of nonunion workers in the same occupations and sectors were also reduced. Politicians who care about the middle class should be looking for ways to help workers gain access to collective bargaining and restore union strength. They certainly ought not weaken them further and limit or forbid collective bargaining.

ECONOMIC SNAPSHOT

Middle class incomes suffer without collective bargaining: Union membership and share of income going to the middle 60 percent of families

Union membership rate Share of overall income received by middle 60%
1917 11.0%
1918 12.1%
1919 14.3%
1920 17.5%
1921 17.6%
1922 14.0%
1923 11.7%
1924 11.3%
1925 11.0%
1926 10.7%
1927 10.6%
1928 10.4%
1929 10.1%
1930 10.7%
1931 11.2%
1932 11.3%
1933 9.5%
1934 9.8%
1935 10.8%
1936 11.1%
1937 18.6%
1938 23.9%
1939 24.8%
1940 23.5%
1941 25.4%
1942 24.2%
1943 30.1%
1944 32.5%
1945 33.4%
1946 31.9%
1947 31.1% 52.0%
1948 30.5% 52.6%
1949 29.6% 52.7%
1950 30.0% 52.8%
1951 32.4% 53.4%
1952 31.5% 53.1%
1953 33.2% 54.4%
1954 32.7% 53.7%
1955 32.9% 53.8%
1956 33.2% 54.1%
1957 32.0% 54.6%
1958 31.1% 54.4%
1959 31.6% 54.0%
1960 30.7% 54.0%
1961 28.7% 53.2%
1962 29.1% 53.7%
1963 28.5% 53.8%
1964 28.5% 53.7%
1965 28.6% 53.9%
1966 28.7% 54.0%
1967 28.6% 53.2%
1968 28.7% 53.8%
1969 28.3% 53.8%
1970 27.9% 53.6%
1971 27.4% 53.4%
1972 27.5% 53.3%
1973 27.1% 53.4%
1974 26.5% 53.7%
1975 25.7% 53.8%
1976 25.7% 53.8%
1977 25.2% 53.6%
1978 24.7% 53.5%
1979 25.4% 53.2%
1980 23.6% 53.6%
1981 22.3% 53.5%
1982 21.6% 52.9%
1983 21.4% 52.9%
1984 20.5% 52.7%
1985 19.0% 52.2%
1986 18.5% 51.9%
1987 17.9% 51.5%
1988 17.6% 51.4%
1989 17.2% 50.8%
1990 16.7% 51.2%
1991 16.2% 51.4%
1992 16.2% 51.0%
1993 16.2% 48.9%
1994 16.1% 49.0%
1995 15.3% 49.1%
1996 14.9% 48.9%
1997 14.7% 48.6%
1998 14.2% 48.6%
1999 13.9% 48.5%
2000 13.5% 47.9%
2001 13.5% 48.0%
2002 13.3% 48.2%
2003 12.9% 48.3%
2004 12.5% 48.0%
2005 12.5% 47.8%
2006 12.0% 47.5%
2007 12.1% 48.6%
2008 12.4% 48.2%
2009 12.3% 47.9%
2010 11.9% 48.3%
2011 11.8% 47.4%
2012 11.2% 47.3%
2013 11.2% 47.4%
ChartData Download data

The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.

Source: Data on union density follow the composite series found in Historical Statistics of the United States; updated to 2013 from unionstats.com. Data on the middle 60%'s share of income are from U.S. Census Bureau Historical Income Tables (Table F-2)

Copy the code below to embed this chart on your website.


See related work on Wages, Incomes, and Wealth

See more work by Ross Eisenbrey