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Union approval at a record high, despite falling membership rates

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Dive Brief:

  • Union approval is up in the U.S., despite union membership wavering. In Gallup’s annual report, a record high of 61% of respondents said unions “help rather than hurt” the economy.  
  • Likewise, a record high of 43% of respondents said they want unions to have more even influence in the U.S, per the Jan. 23 report.
  • However, despite 34% foreseeing unions becoming even “stronger” in the future — up from about 20% of respondents having that outlook over the past two decades — union membership is at a record low. 

Dive Insight:

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Gallup noted that the current union membership rate, as a percentage of the workforce, is the lowest it has been since 1983, when it was at 20%. In the most recent data (2022) used in Gallup’s analysis, the rate was 10%.

The drop in union membership rates can be deceptive. Last year, BLS reported that rates dropped; a closer look reveals that union membership increased alongside the number of people participating in the workforce. In other words: Workforce participation outpaced the number of people who joined unions (a 3.9% increases versus a 1.9% increase).

The BLS, which released its latest analysis on Jan. 23, reported that last year’s numbers remain relatively unchanged from the year before.

Still, while the rate of union membership is declining, Gallup said, “membership is growing in value” for those who are currently members. Now 50% of unionized workers, up from a previously recorded 40%, said that their membership is “extremely important” to them.

“More committed union members and surging public support are likely to strengthen unions in the workforce and U.S. economy for the foreseeable future,” researchers said.

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