Labor unions changed the landscape of the American workplace at the height of industrialization. Collective action offered fair wages, safe working conditions, and the 40-hour workweek, but how do labor unions affect workers in the 21st century? Researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of California, Riverside set out to answer this question and found that unions are still highly impactful in today’s workforce.
Looking at unionization rates from 1975 to 2015 and a variety of poverty markers, the researchers found that households with at least one union member had an average poverty rate of 5.9 percent, compared to 18.9 percent for households without a unionized worker. At the state level, those with higher unionization rates had, on average, seven percent lower poverty rates than those with low unionization rates.
Unfortunately, union participation rates have declined significantly since the 1970s. This is partially due to a shift away from manufacturing jobs and the lack of unionization in emerging sectors like service, but it’s also due to legislative restrictions on unionization like the Taft-Hartley Act.
Countries like Norway, France, and Iceland, where unionization and collective bargaining agreements are strong, have far lower rates of poverty. Unionization is certainly not the only factor in this differential, but it plays a large role. Despite this, American lawmakers rarely look to unions when seeking to reduce poverty. Hopefully, research like this will shift perspectives on the positive impact of unions and urge more public officials to mobilize unions in their efforts to improve prosperity.
Source study: SAGE Journals – Labor Unions and American Poverty