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The state of the unions: Membership is up, but density still drops

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We wrote this overview of the state of the labor movement following the release of annual union membership data last year.

New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the long-term trend in union density continued in 2014: down, down, down.

What's interesting about this is that union membership actually went up last year, with 41,000 new union members in the private sector and 8,000 in public. But the number of people working increased much more than that.

The long-term trend has been that union membership in the public sector -- meaning government employees -- has grown, while private sector membership has dropped.

Since the end of the recession, though, that was flipped, with 300,000 more private-sector union employees and 400,000 fewer in the public sector. That's a function of the recent decline in government employment. The number of union members in each sector has been about the same since 2011.

African-American workers continue to be more likely to be members of unions than white workers, who are more likely to be union members than Hispanics.

But Hispanic workers are far more likely to see a benefit from membership. Overall, union members earned about 27 percent more than non-union members in 2014. For Hispanics, the figure was 41.5 percent -- which is actually down substantially from recent years. The group that sees the smallest boost in pay from joining a union is men, who in 2014 still made a fifth more than men who weren't organized.

In recent years, the decrease in union density has slowed: from 1983 to 1993, density dropped 4.4 percent; from 2003 to 2013, it fell 1.6 percent. In the past 30 years, density has increased only twice, in 2007 and 2008 -- right before the recession gutted the workforce.

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