What Do Unions Do for the Middle Class?

By Richard Freeman, Eunice Han, Brendan Duke, David Midland – Center for American Progress

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association—a case that could further erode union coverage. Now, new economic research from the Center for American Progress strongly suggests that one-third of the decline in the share of middle class workers is directly tied to the decreasing share of workers in unions.

The analysis breaks down the falling share of middle-class workers into three factors associated with unions—the decline in the share of workers in unions, known as union coverage; a decline in the share of union workers who are middle class relative to nonunion workers, known as the union equality effect; and the interaction between the decline in union coverage and the union equality effect. By using an economic technique known as a shift-share decomposition, the research finds a decline in union coverage accounting for 35 percent of the falling share of middle-class workers and that the combination of the shrinking share of union workers and the reduction in the union equality effect explains almost half of the decline in middle-class workers. Read more »