January 30, 2012
In 2011, the union membership rate—the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union—was 11.8 percent, essentially unchanged from 11.9 percent in 2010. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.8 million, also showed little movement over the year. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.
In 2011, 7.6 million employees in the public sector belonged to a union, compared with 7.2 million union workers in the private sector. The union membership rate for public-sector workers (37.0 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private-sector workers (6.9 percent).
Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 43.2 percent. This group includes workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters. Private-sector industries with high unionization rates included transportation and utilities (21.1 percent) and construction (14.0 percent), while low unionization rates occurred in agriculture and related industries (1.4 percent) and in financial activities (1.6 percent).
In 2011, 29 states and the District of Columbia had union membership rates below that of the U.S. average, 11.8 percent, while 21 states had higher rates. All states in the Middle Atlantic and Pacific divisions reported union membership rates above the national average, while all states in the East South Central and West South Central divisions had rates below it.
Seven states had union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2011, with North Carolina having the lowest rate (2.9 percent). The next lowest rates were recorded in South Carolina (3.4 percent), Georgia (3.9 percent), Arkansas (4.2 percent), Louisiana (4.5 percent), and Tennessee and Virginia (4.6 percent each). Three states had union membership rates over 20.0 percent in 2011: New York (24.1 percent), Alaska (22.1 percent), and Hawaii (21.5 percent).
These data on union membership are from the Current Population Survey. Unionization data are for wage and salary workers. Find out more in "Union Members — 2011" (HTML) (PDF), news release USDL-12-0094.