Unions Build the Middle Class, Report Concludes

by Clyde Weiss  |  September 27, 2011

As unions go, so goes the middle class.

AFSCME members know the corporate-backed right-wing agenda to destroy the rights of workers is undermining the middle class. Now, in a new report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, we can see just how closely union strength is tied to middle class prosperity.

The report, by David Madland and Nick Bunker, uses recently released data from the U.S. Census Bureau to demonstrate that “strong unions are a critical factor in creating a middle-class society.” Moreover, the authors state, “Restoring the strength of unions would go a long way toward rebuilding the middle class.”

The report demonstrates that states with the lowest percentage of union-represented workers (North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas) also have relatively weak middle classes. Click here to find out how union membership affects middle-class earnings in your state.

In 1968, the report states, 28 percent of all workers were represented by unions. That same year, the share of income going to the nation’s middle class was 53.2 percent. As of last year, however, union membership was less than 12 percent of all workers and the middle class received just 46.5 percent of all income (a drop of 6.7 percent from 1968).

“Without strong unions, the middle class has lost out to the wealthy,” the authors conclude. “In fact, dollar for dollar, strengthening unions is just about as important to the middle class as boosting college graduation rates, according to a study we conducted several months ago on the strength of the middle class in all 50 states and updated for this column based on the new Census figures.”

AFSCME is fighting to restore the middle class. Our Main Street Movement “has brought together working families, civil rights organizations, church groups, students, environmentalists, the LGBT community and others to counter efforts of radical elected officials who have tried to turn back the clock to a time when only the powerful had a voice and a future,” says AFSCME Sec.-Treas. Lee Saunders.

For more on how unions help build a strong middle class, click here.

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