STUMP » Articles » Visualizing U.S. Union Membership, 1983-2018 » 5 December 2019, 04:49

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Visualizing U.S. Union Membership, 1983-2018  


5 December 2019, 04:49

This relates to digging into details on bailing out and reforming multiemployer pension plans.

One of the biggest issues is that unionization has dropped, and that means pension plans that were designed assuming growing membership over time has made those particular systems fragile.

Basic unionization data can be gotten here, and one can get it broken out by profession and employer type.

Here is something of interest for 2018:

6.5% of private employees are union members.
34.4% of public sector employees are union members.
The percentage is even higher for employees of local governments: 40.1%.

But I was able to get some historical data, though not at that level of detail. Starting here, I got data from the Current Population Survey, going back to 1983, for a very limited number of items.

Let’s check for 35 years of history, 1983 to 2018. I have some shorter data sets, running from 2000 to 2018, but let’s go for the longer period.

I will note, for today’s exercise, that there is a breakout of union membership vs. union representation (whether one is a member or not… I fell under this category when I worked at UConn. A union “represented” me. I was not a member.)


Let’s just look at the raw numbers:

Already, the raw numbers show a decrease over the 35 years – 17% decrease over 35 years. That’s equivalent to a decrease of 0.5% per year for each of the 35 years.


Let’s look at how that decrease compares to non-union worker growth.

Um, yeah. So while union membership decreased by about 0.5% per year, non-union member numbers increased at about 1.7% per year. It was a cumulative increase of 78% in the number of non-union workers.


But the next bit will help explain some of the problem for multiemployer pensions.

And there you have it.

Over the 35 years, the number of public employees who were unionized increased 25%.

The number of private employees who were unionized decreased 37%.That’s a decrease of about 1.3% per year.

For right now, it doesn’t actually matter why the union numbers fell so much.What does matter is to realize that multiemployer plans were often assuming that the private sector union employee basis would grow and support the pension funds.

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