RISING WAGE INEQUALITY: Data 1

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Table 1 presents a descriptive overview of the changes in union membership that have occurred among U.S. male and female workers over the past two decades. The samples underlying this table (and all the subsequent tables in this paper) include individuals age 16-65 who were working in the survey week (excluding self-employed workers) and who reported an hourly or weekly wage for their main job. Union status is measured by the individual’s response to the question: “On this job (the main job) is_a member of a labor union or an employee association similar to a union?”
Recent CPS surveys have also collected union coverage information for non-members of unions, however, this information was not collected in the 1973 or 1974 surveys. For comparability over time I therefore use union membership status in both 1973-4 and 1993.

The first row of Table 1 documents the well-known decline in union membership among male workers between 1973 and 1993, along with the fairly stable rate of union membership among women. Comparisons of membership patterns for different age and education groups show that within the male and female labor forces some groups have lost union membership while others have gained. Younger and less-educated men and women had the biggest drops in union membership, whereas union rates among college-educated men and women rose significantly. Membership rates for men declined for all race groups and regions while the patterns by race and region for women were more variable.
Row 6 of Table 1 illustrates what is probably the most important fact about union membership in the U.S. labor market over the past 25 years: the dramatic decline in unionism in the private sector (for both men and women) and the fairly rapid rise in public sector unionization. These figures make clear that the relative stability in union membership of women has actually masked a major shift in the concentration of unionization from the private to the public sectors. In 1973-4, 29 percent of female union members worked in the public sector. By 1993 this ratio had risen to 57 percent. Among men, 16 percent of union members worked in the public sector in 1973-4 compared to 32 percent in 1993.

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