PREVIEW: Union Membership Byte 2021

January 22, 2021

The union membership rate rose by 0.5 percentage point to 10.8 percent in 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports today.

Figure 1

There were marked upswings in the unionization rate across sectors, in a year otherwise marked by staggering job loss and a global health crisis. While the number of union members declined, the percent decline in the number of employed was over three times larger for nonunion workers than for union members. A similar dynamic emerged in 2007 and 2008, following the financial crisis.

In manufacturing, the union membership rate continued to tick downward, though it is still above the private sector average. This is notable in a year when union density trended upward in many other industries. While manufacturing was historically a heavily unionized industry, it is clear that this is no longer the case (Figure 1).

In the public sector, both the share and number of union workers increased (Figure 2). This occurred at all levels of government — federal, state, and local. The gains are especially remarkable in light of concerted policy efforts to undermine the collective bargaining capacity of public employees.

Figure 2

Though union membership has historically been largely the province of white men, the labor movement has diversified significantly. The gender gap continued to narrow this year; it is now half a percentage point, down from 10 percentage points in the early 1980s (Figure 3). In 2020, the unionization share and number of members also grew among Blacks and Hispanics (Figure 4).

Figure 3

Figure 4

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