Being In A Union Is As Good For A Woman’s Pay As A Year Of College

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Unionization has a big impact on how much women make, whether they have health insurance coverage from their employers, and whether they have an employer-provided retirement plan, according to a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

When it comes to wages, being in a union will raise a woman’s pay by 12.9 percent, or about $2.50 an hour, compared to similar women who aren’t in unions. Given that a four-year college degree increases women’s wages by more than 50 percent compared to those who just have a high school degree, the boost from being in a union is worth about a quarter of that increase, or one year of college.

The impacts of unionization are even more pronounced when it comes to benefits. Unionized women are more than a third more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and over 50 percent more likely to have a retirement plan. Both of those effects are greater than the effect of getting a four-year college degree. The numbers are more dramatic for women with less formal education: women without a high school diploma are 104 percent more likely to get health insurance and nearly 80 percent more likely to have a retirement plan than non-unionized workers at the same education level.

The report notes that women have grown their share of union membership, rising from about a third of all unionized workers in 1983 to more than 45 percent in 2012, and they are on track to become a majority by 2023. But as with all workers, the share of women workers who are unionized has fallen sharply, from 18 percent in the ’80s to just over 11 percent today. That tracks with overall declining membership, which hit the lowest levels seen since the Great Depression at the beginning of the year.

But unionization has big benefits for many workers and even the larger economy. The middle class fares much better in states with high levels of unionization, as does its income: if the rates were 10 percent higher, middle class workers would make $1,479 more a year whether unionized or not. Higher unionization rates are also linked with increased economic mobility, or the ability for a worker to move into a higher income bracket than his parents, but falling rates have closely tracked increasing income inequality. Falling unionization is also an important ingredient in falling wages even as corporate profits soar.