At the core of the American dream is economic mobility — an individual’s ability to earn more in a lifetime than one’s parents did. This mobility has been on the decline for several reasons, one of which is declining union density.
Now, a study from the Center for American Progress (CAP) Action Fund connects unionism to a boost in such economic mobility in U.S.
Not surprisingly, nine of the worst 10 states in terms of economic mobility have “Right-to-Work” laws that discourage union membership. Conversely, the states with the highest union density are among those with the highest levels of economic mobility.
The 10 states with the highest unionization rates—New York, Hawaii, Michigan, New Jersey, Washington, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Oregon—perform considerably better on a range of measures of mobility than the 10 states with the lowest levels of unionization —South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, Arizona, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, New Mexico, and Arkansas.
The report also notes that by educating members on political policies, unions facilitate a situation where workers are more likely to vote for politicians that will enact the policies that are best for them.
Outside of the workplace, labor unions help get ordinary citizens involved in politics to advocate for public policies that help boost mobility such as the minimum wage and investments in education. States with higher levels of unionization have more generous social safety nets that lift workers up as well as cushion blows.
The link between education and economic mobility is clear according to CAP. Missouri is used as a prime example:
A 10 percentage point increase in the share of workforce with a college degree would be correlated with a 10.9 percentage point increase in the state’s upwardly mobile population. Let’s use Missouri as an example again. Increasing its college-educated workforce to 29.4 percent from 19.4 percent in 2010 would be associated with an increase in the share of the upwardly mobile population to 41 percent. Missouri would then have a level of upward mobility similar to Oregon, becoming one of the most mobile states in the country.