Press Release Workers

Demographics of the Labor Movement Shift Considerably over the Past 25 Years

November 09, 2009

Contact: Karen Conner, (202) 293-5380 x117Mail_Outline

Almost half of union workers are women; women, Latinos, and Asians biggest gainers; only one-in-ten union jobs in manufacturing.

For Immediate Release: November 10, 2009
Contact: Alan Barber (202) 293-5380 x115

Washington, D.C.- Over the past 25 years, the face of the labor movement has undergone considerable change, according to a new report released today by CEPR.

“The view that the typical union worker is a white male manufacturing worker may have been correct a quarter of a century ago, but it’s not an accurate description of those in today’s labor movement,” said John Schmitt, a Senior Economist with CEPR and an author of the report. 

The report, “The Changing Face of Labor, 1983-2008,” analyzes trends in the union workforce over the last quarter century and finds that the it is more diverse today than just 25 years ago. These trends in the composition of the unionized workforce, in part, reflect similar shifts in the workforce as a whole.

“The unionized workforce is changing with the country,” Schmitt continued. “The fastest growing groups in the overall economy are also the fastest growing groups in the labor movement.”

The findings of the report reveal this and other shifts in union composition. Among them:

  • Women now make up over 45 percent of unionized workers, up from just 35 percent in 1983. By 2020, women will be the majority of union workers.
  • Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group in the labor movement. In 2008, they represented 12.2 percent of the union workforce, up from 5.8 percent in 1983.
  • Asians have seen considerable gains and made up 4.6 percent of the union workforce in 2008, an increase from 2.5 percent in 1989.
  • Black workers were about 13 percent of the total unionized workforce, a share that has held fairly steady since 1983, despite a large decline in the representation of whites over the same period.
  • Over one-third of union workers had a four-year college degree or more, up from only one-in-five in 1983. Almost half of union women had at least a four-year college degree.
  • Only about one-in-ten unionized workers was in manufacturing, down from almost 30 percent in 1983.
  • Just under half (48.9 percent) of unionized workers were in the public sector, up from just over one-third (34.4 percent) in 1983. About 61 percent of unionized women are in the public sector.
  • The typical union worker was 45 years old, or about 7 years older than in 1983. (The typical employee, regardless of union status, was 41 years old, also about 7 years older than in 1983.)
  • More educated workers were more likely to be unionized than less educated workers, a reversal from 25 years ago.
  • Immigrants made up 12.6 percent of union workers in 2008, up from 8.4 percent in 1994.
  • In rough terms, five-in-ten union workers were in the public sector; one of every ten was in manufacturing; and the remaining four of ten were in the private sector outside of manufacturing.

The full study can be found here.


Support Cepr

If you value CEPR's work, support us by making a financial contribution.