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Unions by the Numbers: 2021 Edition


It’s that time of year when the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases its annual report detailing, at least numerically, where unions currently stand in America. Relative to years past, there is some favorable data for unions in this year’s report.

Overall, union membership increased on a percentage basis from 2019 to 2020. According to the report:

“In 2020, the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions—the union membership rate—was 10.8 percent, up by 0.5 percentage point from 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.3 million in 2020, 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 decline 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 union workers.”

There are several other notable highlights from the report:

  • Private sector union membership rose slightly to 6.3 percent, up from 6.2 percent in 2019. Public sector union rates also increased to 34.8 percent from 33.6 percent. Public sector union membership remains about five times that of the private sector, but on a pure numbers basis, there are 7.2 million public sector union members as compared to 7.1 million private sector union workers. 
  • Protective service, education, training, and library occupations continued to see the highest union membership rates at 35.9 percent. 
  • The gender gap continues to close in terms of union membership, but more men (11 percent) still belong to unions than women (10.5 percent)
  • Hawaii and New York continued to have the highest union membership rates at the state level (23.7 percent and 22 percent, respectively), and South Carolina and North Carolina continued to have the lowest (2.9 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively)

As the Biden administration comes online, it is widely anticipated to enact labor laws and regulations that will make it easier for unions to organize new workforces, which could augment their numbers. Time will tell if that is the case, however, as a host of other factors – such as company closures due to COVID-19, possible job losses in the heavily unionized fossil fuels industry due to de-emphasis on those, etc. – also will impact union numbers in the coming years. 


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