Pandemic effects slightly skew 2020 union membership rates

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; CP staff

Wage and salary workers who were members of unions represented 10.8 percent of the 2020 workforce, a 0.5 percent year-over-year gain, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. In construction, the union membership rate rose 0.1 point, to 12.8 percent or 1.05 million workers, over the same period. 

The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions in 2020—14.3 million total, split nearly evenly between public and private sectors—was down by 321,000, or 2.2 percent, from 2019. However, the decline in total wage and salary employment was 9.6 million (mostly among nonunion workers), or 6.7 percent. The disproportionately large drop in total wage and salary employment compared with the decline in the number of union members led to an increase in the union membership rate. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million rank & file.

BLS collects union membership data 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 non-institutional population age 16 and over.

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