Washington, D.C.—Strong unions are the foundation for a strong middle class, according to a new report by David Madland, Karla Walter, and Nick Bunker released today by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The study looks at all 50 states and finds direct economic correlation between a thriving middle class and a strong union presence. Conversely, states with a fading union presence see the detrimental effects to the state’s middle-class families.
“Unions and all their work—from pushing for fair wages, to encouraging citizens to vote, to supporting Social Security and advocating for family leave benefits—fuel a strong middle class. At a time when both union membership and the middle class are shrinking in the United States, we must bolster one voice to support the growth in the other,” said Madland. “The middle class has carried the majority of the burden in the Great Recession, it is time that policies that will help them rebuild are prioritized, especially at the state level.”
The authors found that each percentage point increase in union membership puts about $153 more per year into the pockets of the middle class—meaning that if unionization rates increased by 10 percentage points (about the level they were in 1980)—then the typical middle class household would earn $1,532 more this year. The analysis also found that increasing union membership is as important to rebuilding the middle class as boosting college graduation rates.
In particular, states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio illustrate the downward trend of both unions and a weakened middle class. In states such as Hawaii and Alaska where unions are still relatively strong, the middle class is doing better than in most other states. And in states such Florida and Arkansas, where the percentage of workers in unions is especially low, the middle class is doing far worse than in the rest of the country.
This paper is the part of a series of studies exploring the fate of the middle class and their role in America’s economic success. The next paper, anticipated to be released in May, illustrates how a strong middle class fosters better governance that boosts economic growth by safeguarding efficient and honest government institutions as well as promoting growth-oriented public investments, such as in those in infrastructure and education.
To read the full report, click here.
To listen to the press call in which this report was released, click here.