Changing Face of Labor 1983-2008 Report

Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), John Schmitt and Chris Warner published November 2009 report titled Changing Face of Labor 1983-2008.

Over the last quarter century, the unionized workforce has changed dramatically. In 1983, over half of all union workers were white men, few union workers had a college degree, and almost one-third were in manufacturing. In 1983 – the earliest year for which comparable data are available – over half (51.7 percent) of the unionized workforce were white men. Today, white men account for only about 38 percent of union workers. In the intervening years, the shares of women, Latinos, and Asian Pacific Americans in the total union workforce have surged, while African Americans have held a roughly steady share of the union workforce.

In this report, we review consistent, nationally representative data for the last quarter century on the composition of the unionized work force. For key demographic groups, we first provide a detailed picture of current union composition and document how these patterns have changed since 1983, when the government first began collecting systematic annual data on workers’ union status. We then compare these trends for union workers with those in the U.S. workforce as a whole. Finally, for each group, we present trends in the unionization rate (the share of workers in each group who are a member of, or represented by, a union) over the period 1983-2008.

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