Decline of organized labor has helped worsen racial wage gap


union pay difference food industry


Meredith Kleykamp and Jake Rosenfeld are professors of sociology at the University of Maryland and the University of Washington, respectively. Both are members of the Scholars Strategy Network, and both wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times.

The topic: How the decline of labor unions has widened the racial wage gap and that "African Americans and other people of color have a lot at stake." They track the history of unions, their rise, their more recent sliding numbers, and the effect that has had on wages:

[O]ur research aimed to discover what wage trends among blacks and whites, men and women, would have looked like if union membership in the private sector of the U.S. economy had not declined so sharply. Here is what we learned:

• Had union membership rates for women remained at late-1970s levels, racial wage inequality among women in private sector jobs today would be reduced by as much as 30%.

• If rates of union membership among African American men working in the private sector were as high today as in the early 1970s, weekly wages would now be about $50 higher. For a full-time worker, that translates to an income increase of $2,600 a year. Regardless of race, all male workers have lost ground in the private sector as unions have declined.

They describe the modern labor movement as "remarkably inclusive" and one that has boosted African American and white workers and their families economically. The authors also conclude that the dwindling number of private sector unions has made the state of America's economic and social problems worse, including racial wage gaps.

Here are a few of the benefits that unions have provided:

labor unions brought us

See: "What a difference a union can make!" and "Why unions matter, in a measly 1 minute 19 seconds."

chart graph why unions matter