Benefits of Union Membership Narrow Racial Wage Inequality for Black Workers

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Benefits of Union Membership Narrow Racial Wage Inequality for Black Workers

WASHINGTON - Black workers are more likely than workers of any other race to be represented by a union, finds a recent report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). The report, “Black Workers, Unions, and Inequality”, finds that Black union workers experience higher wages and better access to health insurance and retirement benefits than their non-union peers.

The report investigates the demographic characteristics and wage trends of Black workers, union and non-union, from 1983 to 2015. Compared to their predecessors of the early 1980s, Black union workers of today are more likely to be female, older, have more formal education, be immigrants, and work in the public sector.

Black union workers on average earn 16.4 percent higher wages than similar non-union Black workers. Black union workers are also 17.4 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 18.3 percentage points more likely to have an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

Other highlights in the report include:

  • Black union workers in low-wage occupations have wages that are 18.9 percent higher than their non-union counterparts.
  • Black immigrants are more likely than native Blacks to be unionized. In 2015, Black immigrant workers had a unionization rate of 16.9 percent compared to 13.8 percent for native Blacks.
  • Unionization rates for Black workers have declined across all sectors, but the decline has been especially steep for manufacturing (from 42.3 percent in 1983 to 13.3 percent in 2015).
  • Black union workers on average earn $24.24 per hour, compared to $17.78 for non-union Black workers.
  • 71.4 percent of Black union workers have employer-provided health insurance, compared to 47.7 percent of non-union Black workers.
  • 61.6 percent of Black union members have employer-sponsored retirement plans, compared to 38.2 percent of non-union Black workers.

Despite the clear benefits of being a member of a union, decades of anti-union policy decisions have resulted in a tenuous environment for collective bargaining. Over the past three decades, the Black unionization rate has dropped 56 percent while the overall unionization rate has fallen 48 percent. The deunionization that has occurred over the past thirty years has occurred alongside and contributed to a rise in U.S. wage inequality.

Cherrie Bucknor, author of the report added that “unionization for Black workers is critical to narrowing the wage gap between Black and white workers. When talking about growing wage inequality, you can’t exclude unions and the role they play in that discussion.

You can find the full report 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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