Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms unions’ erosion of workforce share

The 14.7 million wage and salary workers who were members of unions in 2018 represented 10.5 percent of the U.S. workforce, down 0.2 percent year-over-year, a Bureau of Labor Statistics report confirms. The figure underscores a protracted union membership rate decline since 1983, the first year for which comparable worker data are available. BLS calculated a rank-and-file of 17.7 million workers that year, or 20.1 percent of the wage and salary workforce.

Union membership figures are collected as part of the Current Population Survey, a monthly sampling of about 60,000 eligible households that obtains information on employment and unemployment among the nation’s civilian population age 16 and over. Among 2018 data highlights:

  • The union membership rate of public-sector workers (33.9 percent) remains more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.4 percent). In 2018, 7.2 million employees in the public sector belonged to a union, compared to 7.6 million workers in the private sector. Union membership rates in both sectors edged down.
  • The highest unionization rates in the public sector were among workers in protective service occupations (33.9 percent) and in education, training, and library occupations (33.8 percent). Private-sector industries with high unionization rates included utilities (20.1 percent), transportation and warehousing (16.7 percent), and telecommunications (15.4 percent). Unionization rates were lowest in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (2.4 percent); sales and related occupations (3.3 percent); computer and mathematical occupations (3.7 percent); and in food preparation and serving related occupations (3.9 percent).
  • Hawaii and New York had the highest union membership rates (23.1 percent and 22.3 percent, respectively) among states, while the Carolinas had the lowest (2.7 percent each). In 2018, 29 states and the District of Columbia had union membership rates below that of the U.S. average, 10.5 percent, while 20 states had rates above it and one state had the same rate. Eight states had union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2018. The next lowest rates were in Utah (4.1 percent) and Texas and Virginia (4.3 percent each).
  • Over half of the 14.7 million union members in the U.S. live in seven states (California, 2.4 million; New York, 1.9 million; Illinois, 0.8 million; Pennsylvania, 0.7 million; and Michigan, Ohio, and Washington, 0.6 million each), though they only account for about one-third of wage and salary employment nationally.
  • Union membership rates remain highest among workers ages 45 to 64. In 2018, 12.8 percent of workers ages 45 to 54 and 13.3 percent of those ages 55 to 64 were union members. The union membership rate for full-time workers (11.6 percent) was about twice the rate for part-time workers (5.4 percent). In 2018, 16.4 million wage and salary workers were represented by a union. This group includes both union members (14.7 million) and workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union contract (1.6 million).

In 2018, the union membership rate continued to be higher for men (11.1 percent) than for women (9.9 percent). The gap between their rates has narrowed considerably since 1983 (the earliest year for which comparable data are available), when rates for men and women were 24.7 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively. Among major race and ethnicity groups, Black workers continued to have a higher union membership rate in 2018 (12.5 percent) than workers who were White (10.4 percent), Asian (8.4 percent), or Hispanic (9.1 percent).