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TODAY IN DUH: States With Higher Union Membership Have Stronger Middle Class


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Income inequality is trending topic in the national political conversation, and not just because of hashtag trickery. It’s a serious problem. But new numbers from the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) show that union density can act as a buffer for the middle class.

In comparing census data with union membership rates on a state-by-state level, CAPAF finds that states in which unions are more prevalent have a healthier middle class.  While higher wages are partially responsible, the ability of unions to defend social security and fight against wage-killing legislation such as “Right-to-Work” is a big factor at play.  Think Progress describes the revealing figures released by CAPAF:

By comparing the share of total income that went to the middle 60 percent of the population in each state to the level of union membership in each state, CAPAF’s David Madland and Keith Miller found that the states with the lowest rates of union membership return below-average shares of income to their middle-class residents. The income figures come from new Census data, and the union density figures come from In the ten most-unionized states, the middle class brought home 47.4 percent of total income. In the ten least-unionized states, that income share falls to 46.8 percent.

Given the size of the state income figures at play here, that 0.6 percentage point gap translates to billions of dollars. Madland and Miller note that in Pennsylvania, 0.6 percent of aggregate income for 2012 “would have equaled over $2 billion, or almost $700 per middle-class household.”

As the nation continues the stop-and-go crawl out of the economic recession, the still hurting should take solace in the fact that they have one surefire way to give themselves a boost: joining a union.


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