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

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

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

WASHINGTON - Over the past 25 years, the face of the labor movement has undergone
considerable change, according to a new report released today by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (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 at 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.

 

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The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) was established in 1999 to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives. In order for citizens to effectively exercise their voices in a democracy, they should be informed about the problems and choices that they face. CEPR is committed to presenting issues in an accurate and understandable manner, so that the public is better prepared to choose among the various policy options.

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