What Unions No Longer Do, by Justin Fox: Forty years ago, about quarter of American workers belonged to unions, and those unions were a major economic and political force. Now union membership is down to 11.2% of the U.S. workforce, and it’s increasingly concentrated in the public sector — only 6.7% of private-sector workers were union members in 2013.
This isn’t exactly news... What doesn’t get talked about so much, though, are the consequences. Income inequality has, for example, become a hot topic. You might think that the dwindling away of an institution that devoted much of its energy to equalizing incomes would be a big part of that discussion. It hasn’t been.
Jake Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Washington ... is out to change that. His book What Unions No Longer Do ... is an account of Rosenfeld’s attempt to empirically establish (mainly through a lot of regressions...) the consequences of Big Labor’s decline. ... [H]ere, for Labor Day, are the four big things that, according to Rosenfeld, unions in the U.S. no longer do:
Unions no longer equalize incomes. ...Unions no longer counteract racial inequality. ...Unions no longer play a big role in assimilating immigrants. ...Unions no longer give lower-income Americans a political voice. ...
The decline of unions in the U.S. has often been painted as inevitable, or at least necessary for American businesses to remain internationally competitive. There are definitely industries where this account seems accurate. ... But ... even if the decline of unions was inevitable or desirable, that still leaves those tasks unions once accomplished — which on the whole seem like things that are good for society, and good for business — unattended to. Who’s going to do them now?
[See also, "The Origins of Labor Day" by Tim Taylor.]