2023 BLS Union Membership Report: A Closer Look

by | Jan 23, 2024 | Labor Relations Ink, Labor Relations Insight, Union Research

Introduction: The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2023 report on union membership has just been released, and it’s a treasure trove of insights. We’re diving deep into the numbers to uncover the real story behind the union trends in the contemporary workforce.

Union Membership Declines Slightly Overall: Despite what many viewed as a banner year for organized labor, union membership in 2023 stands firm at 10.0%, encompassing 14.4 million workers, down from 10.1% in 2022. Even though the media claimed more workers want unions and referred to 2023 as the year of the strike, the data in the BLS report shows a record-low overall union density rate. For example, only 6% of private sector employees belong to a union, virtually unchanged despite all the labor union activity in 2023.

Public vs. Private Sector: A Tale of Two Workforces: A stark divide exists between the public sector (32.5%) and private sector (6.0%) regarding union density. The number of union workers employed in the private sector increased by 191,000 to 7.4 million in 2023, while the unionization rate was unchanged at 6.0 percent.

Education, training, libraries, and protective services show the highest unionization rates – all public sector monopolies.

Industries with high unionization rates included utilities (19.9%), transportation and warehousing (15.9%), educational services (12.9%), and motion picture and sound recording industries (12.1%). Low unionization rates occurred in finance (1.2%), professional and technical services (1.3%), food services and drinking places (1.4%), and insurance (1.5%).

A Demographic Snapshot: Union membership is more prevalent among men, Black workers, and older employees. Men continued to have a higher union membership rate (10.5%) than women (9.5%).

By age, workers ages 45 to 54 had the highest union membership rate in 2023, at 12.6 percent. Younger workers—those ages 16 to 24—had the lowest union membership rate, at 4.4 percent, despite media reports claiming that GenZ vastly supports unions. In 2023, the union membership rate for full-time workers (10.9%) was more than double that for part-time workers (5.2%)

Regional Variations: The regional differences in union membership, exceptionally high in Hawaii and New York and low in the Carolinas, highlight the diverse economic and political landscapes influencing union presence across the U.S.

Conclusion: The 2023 BLS report offers a nuanced view of the union membership landscape. It reveals the limited reach of unions despite a very busy 2023. The landscape of unionization in the U.S. labor market remains complex and multifaceted.

This data challenges the mainstream narrative of a surging labor movement and instead shows no growth for labor unions. As we navigate a dynamic labor market, it’s clear that unions face ongoing challenges in providing a value proposition relevant to most of today’s workforce despite a resurgence in popular opinion and the media. Ultimately, less than one in ten private sector employees are union members. Despite the perceived public approval of unions “in general,” most workforce members have decided it’s not for them, especially when presented with the facts.

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