Stronger Together

Unions help the middle class, mo matter the measure.

Unions Help The Middle Class, No Matter The Measure

Here’s a crazy idea, what if there was one policy solution that could help address almost all the economic problems facing the middle class—from stagnant wages and incomes to lack of mobility? And what if it was even a policy we’ve already seen work before? The good news is, there is. The policy: strengthening unions.

One of the only things both political parties can agree on these days is that the middle class is struggling. Despite steady signs of economic improvement, from 75 straight months of private sector job growth to an unemployment rate under 5 percent, middle class Americans continue to be squeezed by increasing costs and stagnant wages. But study after study proves that one surefire way to loosen that squeeze is to strengthen unions. A new report from the Center for American Progress outlines the many ways that strong worker organizations are necessary to strengthen and grow the middle class. Here are just a few:

Unions increase the middle-class share of incomes: The middle-class share of the nation’s total income has been steadily falling since 1968. And as a result the middle 60 percent of Americans receive less than half of the nation’s income. But we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: as unions go, so goes the middle class. Increased union density is associated with more income accruing to the middle class. Additionally, CAP analysis found that declining union membership explains about one-third of the decline in the percentage of U.S. workers who are middle class from 1984 to 2014.


Unions reduce wage inequality: In recent decades, Americans’ incomes have grown further and further apart. And indeed, income inequality has played a key part in the 2016 presidential debate. Unsurprisingly, because unions help increase the share of income going to the middle class and help constrain incomes at the top, unions help reduce wage inequality too.


Unions support high economic mobility: At the heart of the American dream is the idea that all workers, no matter where they start, can make it into the middle class. But for too many, that dream is becoming less and less attainable. Economic mobility is lower in the United States than in any other advanced economy. But research done by CAP and other leading economists has shown that union membership is associated with higher future wages for one’s children. American children of non-college-educated fathers earn 28 percent more as adults if their father was in a labor union compared to children in similar families but whose father was not in a union.


For the full list, read this.

Study after study has come to the same conclusion: When workers come together in unions, they can help make things better for themselves, and indeed most Americans. Joining together enables workers to negotiate for higher wages and benefits, and when unions are strong, these benefits can spill over into other nonunion workplaces. Unfortunately, union membership in the U.S. is low: only 11 percent of workers—and 7 percent of private sector workers—are union members. That’s why policymakers need to make strengthening worker organizations a top priority.

BOTTOM LINE: No matter the measure, the data is clear: strong unions make a strong middle class. If policymakers are serious about their promises to help strengthen the middle class, they must get serious about strengthening unions.

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