The U.S. Department of Labor recently reported that in 2005, 12.5 percent of wage and salary workers were union members, unchanged from 2004. The department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics found the membership rate has declined from a high of 20.1 percent in 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available.

Some highlights from the 2005 data are:

  • Nearly 15.7 million wage and salary workers were union members in 2005.
  • Black workers were more likely to be union members than were white, Asian, or Hispanic workers.
  • Men were more likely than women to be union members.
  • Workers in the public sector had a union membership rate more than four times that of private-sector employees.

Demographic Characteristics of Union Members
In 2005, the union membership rate was higher for men (13.5 percent) than for women (11.3 percent). The gap between their rates has narrowed considerably since 1983, when the rate for men was 10 percentage points higher than the rate for women. This narrowing occurred because the union membership rate for men declined more rapidly than the rate for women over the period. Blacks were more likely to be union members (15.1 percent) than were whites (12.2 percent), Asians (11.2 percent), or Hispanics (10.4 percent). Among age groups, union membership rates were highest among workers 45 to 64 years old (16.5 percent) and were lowest among those ages 16 to 24 (4.6 percent). Full-time workers were more than twice as likely as part-time workers to be union members, 13.7 and 6.5 percent, respectively.

In 2005, full-time wage and salary workers who were union members had median usual weekly earnings of $801, compared with a median of $622 for wage and salary workers who were not represented by unions. The difference reflects a variety of influences in addition to coverage by a collective bargaining agreement, including variations in the distributions of union members and nonunion employees by occupation, industry, firm size, or geographic region.