New data on unionization from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in 2020, 15.9 million workers in the United States were represented by a union, a decline of 444,000 from 2019. However, while unionization levels dropped in 2020, unionization rates rose because union workers have seen less job loss than non-union workers during the COVID-19 pandemic per the BLS  report. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.

Highlights from the 2020 data: –The union membership rate of public-sector workers (34.8 percent) continued to be more than five times higher than the rate of private-sector workers (6.3 percent). –The highest unionization rates were among workers in protective service occupations (36.6 percent) and in education, training, and library occupations (35.9 percent). –Men continued to have a higher union membership rate (11.0 percent) than women (10.5 percent). –Nonunion workers had median weekly earnings that were 84 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($958 versus $1,144). –By age, union membership rates continued to be highest among workers ages 45 to 64. In 2020, 13.2 percent of workers ages 45 to 54 and 13.0 percent of those ages 55 to 64 were union members. –Among states, Hawaii and New York continued to have the highest union membership rates (23.7 percent and 22.0 percent, respectively), while South Carolina and North Carolina continued to have the lowest (2.9 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively).

Industry and Occupation of Union Members In 2020, 7.2 million employees in the public sector and 7.1 million workers in the private sector belonged to unions. Union membership decreased by 428,000 in the private sector and showed little change in the public sector. The union membership rate increased over the year in the public sector by 1.2 percentage points to 34.8 percent, reflecting a decline in total public-sector wage and salary employment (-391,000).

Within the public sector, the union membership rate was highest in local government (41.7 percent), which employs many workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as police officers, firefighters, and teachers. The unionization rate for private-sector workers increased by 0.1 percentage point to 6.3 percent in 2020, reflecting the net effect of declines in both the number of union members in the private sector and the steep drop in private-sector employment. Private-sector industries with high unionization rates included utilities (20.6 percent), transportation and warehousing (17.0 percent), and telecommunications (14.3 percent). Low unionization rates occurred in food services (1.2 percent), finance (1.2 percent), and professional and technical services (1.3 percent).

Among occupational groups, the highest unionization rates in 2020 were in protective service occupations (36.6 percent) and in education, training, and library occupations (35.9 percent). Unionization rates were lowest in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (2.6 percent); sales and related occupations (3.2 percent); and food preparation and serving related occupations (3.4 percent).

The large declines in nonunion employment among both men and women put upward pressure on their union membership rates. The gap between their rates has narrowed considerably since 1983 (the earliest year for which comparable data are available), when rates for men and women were 24.7 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively. The number of White union members decreased by 264,000, while the numbers of Black, Asian, and Hispanic union members showed little change. Union Membership by State In 2020, 30 states and the District of Columbia had union membership rates below that of the U.S. average, 10.8 percent, while 20 states had rates above it.

Over half of the 14.3 million union members in the U.S. lived in just seven states (California, 2.4 million; New York, 1.7 million; Illinois and Pennsylvania, 0.7 million each; and Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio, 0.6 million each). “The Biden administration and Congress must institute policies that promote union representation and collective bargaining as we rebuild our post-pandemic economy and workforce,” said Celine McNicholas, EPI Director of Government Affairs.

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