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Union membership rate declines in 2021, returns to 2019 rate of 10.3 percent

January 25, 2022

The union membership rate declined by 0.5 percentage point to 10.3 percent in 2021, offsetting the increase in the prior year and bringing the rate back to what it was in 2019. In 2021, the rate decreased due to a decline in the number of union members (−241,000, or −1.7 percent) and an increase in the number of wage and salary workers overall (+4.2 million, or +3.2 percent). The 2020 increase in the unionization rate was due to a disproportionately large decline in wage and salary employment (mostly among nonunion workers) at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic compared with the decline in the number of union members.

Change in employment for total wage and salary workers and union members, 1984–2021
YearTotal wage and salary workersUnion members

1984

3,904,000-377,000

1985

2,327,000-344,000

1986

2,382,000-21,000

1987

2,400,000-62,000

1988

2,104,00089,000

1989

2,073,000-42,000

1990

1,396,000-184,000

1991

-1,153,000-164,000

1992

945,000-194,000

1993

1,433,000209,000

1994

1,888,000121,000

1995

2,049,000-388,000

1996

1,922,000-91,000

1997

2,573,000-159,000

1998

2,197,000101,000

1999

2,233,000266,000

2000

3,126,000-143,000

2001

140,000-29,000

2002

-403,000-160,000

2003

532,000-369,000

2004

1,196,000-304,000

2005

2,335,000213,000

2006

2,348,000-326,000

2007

1,530,000311,000

2008

-390,000428,000

2009

-4,887,000-771,000

2010

-417,000-612,000

2011

1,114,00049,000

2012

2,390,000-398,000

2013

1,533,000162,000

2014

2,321,00048,000

2015

2,312,000219,000

2016

2,358,000-240,000

2017

1,789,000262,000

2018

2,209,000-73,000

2019

1,638,000-170,000

2020

-9,563,000-321,000

2021

4,219,000-241,000

In 2021, wage and salary employment increased for all major worker groups, while the number of union members decreased for most groups. These changes brought union membership rates down from 2020. Many rates are in line with or below where they were in 2019.

The unionization rate for men decreased to 10.6 percent in 2021, and the rate for women declined to 9.9 percent. The rate for men is below their 2019 rate, while the rate for women is above their 2019 rate.

Union membership rates by sex, race, and ethnicity, 2019–21
Sex, race, and ethnicity201920202021

Total

10.3%10.8%10.3%

Men

10.811.010.6

Women

9.710.59.9

White

10.310.710.3

Black

11.212.311.5

Asian

8.88.97.7

Hispanic

8.99.89.0

The union membership rates for White workers (10.3 percent), Black workers (11.5 percent), Asian workers (7.7 percent), and Hispanic workers (9.0 percent) declined in 2021. The rates were little different from 2019, aside from Asian workers (−1.1 percentage point from 2019 to 2021).

These data are from the Current Population Survey. To learn more, see “Union Members — 2021.” The union membership rate is calculated by dividing the number of union members by the number of wage and salary workers. Union membership data do not include self-employed workers. People whose ethnicity is Hispanic or Latino may be of any race.

SUGGESTED CITATION

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Union membership rate declines in 2021, returns to 2019 rate of 10.3 percent at https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2022/union-membership-rate-declines-in-2021-returns-to-2019-rate-of-10-3-percent.htm (visited December 08, 2022).