Labor Union Report: Membership in Private Sector Stands at 6.3%

By at 26 January, 2021, 11:21 am

by Raymond J. Keating-

While labor unions continue to carry weight in the halls of political power, while also claiming a significant share of government workers as members, their long decline in the private sector has largely continued.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its “Union Members – 2020” report. Of course, with the devastating loss of jobs in 2020 due to the pandemic and governments’ response, the data needs to be considered carefully. But a close look reveals that, at least as shares of employment, labor union membership didn’t change much in 2020.

In percentage terms, the decline in total wage and salary workers in 2020 was larger than the decline in union members. Therefore, there actually was a slight increase in the labor union members as a share of workers.

Labor union members as a percent of employed went from 10.3 percent in 2019 to 10.8 percent in 2020. While that was the highest rate since 2015, to put it in broader perspective, the percent of employed who were union members registered 13.5 percent in 2000, and 24 percent in 1973 (earliest year’s data at

Meanwhile, private-sector labor union members as a percent of private-sector employed barely inched up from 6.2 percent in 2019 to 6.3 percent in 2020. In 2018, it stood at 6.4 percent, and looking back further, it was 9.0 percent in 2000 and 24.2 percent in 1973.

Finally, public-sector union members as a percent of employed moved from 33.6 percent to 34.8 percent. That was the highest level since 2015. Government union membership actually is up compared to 1973, for example, where it stood at 23 percent. But it is down from its high of 38.7 percent registered in 1994.

Labor unions are anything but a growth area – that is, outside of their political influence (note increasing labor union spending on presidential campaigns here and here). Indeed, the clout labor unions have lost at the private-sector collective bargaining table has been shifted to political lobbying and influence, which can already be seen in policy agenda (via Executive Orders and various proposal) put forward by the Biden administration.

Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.


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