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New Study Shows Union Apprenticeships on Par with Bachelor's Degrees for Wages and Benefits

“The data unequivocally shows that attending college is not the only pathway into the American middle class.”

Taking into account key economic and social metrics, a new national study by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) has determined that union construction apprenticeships rival degrees obtained from four year colleges when it comes to earning potential. A graduate from a union apprenticeship program is able to achieve wage and benefits equivalency to workers with four-year degrees.

The study examines ten years of U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Census Bureau data from 2010- 2020. “The data reveals that broad stigmas that have long been associated with vocational training alternatives to college are simply not grounded in fact,” said study ILEPI Policy Director Frank Manzo IV. “Compared with two- and four-year colleges, joint labor-management apprenticeships in construction deliver a more robust training regimen, similar diversity outcomes, competitive wage and benefit levels, and comparable tax revenue for states and local governments, while leaving graduates entirely free of burdensome student loan debt.”

The study found that while union apprenticeship programs rival college degrees, non-union workers' trajectories had parity with individuals who had achieved only high school diplomas or GEDs. Non-union construction workers average $18,300 per year less than their union counterparts, showed less of a likelihood of having health insurance and/or a retirement plan, are twice as likely to be living below the poverty line, are three times more likely to be on Medicaid, and are significantly more likely to be single. Manzo added, “The data unequivocally shows that attending college is not the only pathway into the American middle class. However, it is clear that the most viable such pathway in construction runs through the joint labor-management apprenticeships and the unionized side of the industry.”

It was also demonstrated that joint-labor management programs were successful in enrolling a higher proportion of African Americans and Latinos within the majority of the states included in the study group.


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