Research Shows that Union Membership Can Yield $1.3 Million More in Earnings Over Lifetime


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A new research paper published in the Cornell ILR Review reports that over the course of a lifetime, workers in unions will make $1.3 million more than those who never unionize. "We find that a person who spent the entirety of their career in a labor union were predicted to earn about a million dollars more over the course of their career compared to somebody who was never in a labor union," says Tom VanHeuvelen of University of Minnesota Twin Cities, one of the authors of the paper.


The researchers analyzed data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. They focused on a universe that contained men who were in their late 20s in the 1960s and 1970s and tracked them through retirement. And then cross referenced that data with whether or not the subjects were union members. They found that non union workers were projected to earn $2.1 million over their careers, while those who were career union members were projected to earn $3.4 million.


This jibes with, and is an extension of other studies of unions and their impact. According to a 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, workers who aren't in unions only make 83% of unionized worker's wages. This new study, however, demonstrates the long-term gains of a lifetime spent as part of a union, with a backdrop of growing wealth disparities, and on the heels of a years long decline in union membership.


"All this research that has been done shows that unions are really important for inequality, and that the demise of unions is a really important contributor to this growth of economic inequality and economic polarization," VanHeuvelen said.


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