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Report: Blacks strongly benefit from union jobs

Stephon Johnson | 2/20/2014, 1:27 p.m.

According to a recent report by an independent, nonpartisan think tank, union jobs help African-Americans move up the economic ladder, boost pay and benefits and bring families out of poverty.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research’s study, “Union Advantage for Black Workers,” used the most recent Current Population Survey data available, covering the period of 2008 to 2013, to determine how much Blacks have benefitted from the union struggle.

Created by CEPR Research Assistant Janelle Jones and CEPR Senior Economist John Schmitt, the report concludes that unionized African-American workers earn, on average, 15.6 percent more than their non-union counterparts, almost three-fourths of unionized Black workers had health insurance through their employer or union (compared to less than half of non-unionized Black workers) and almost twice as many Black workers had an employer-sponsored retirement plan as Black workers who weren’t in unions.

The report also concluded that while unionization boosted the wages and benefits of Black workers at every educational level, the benefits of union representation were largest for less-educated workers.

“Unionization raised the hourly wage for Black workers with less than a four-year college degree by nearly 20 percent (19.3 percent for those with less than a high school degree, 19.4 percent for those with only a high school degree and 17.7 percent for those with some college but short a four-year degree),” read the report. “The union wage premium for these workers is almost double the 10.3 percent premium for Black workers with a four-year college degree.”

Moreover, both genders have benefitted greatly from unionized labor.

“The union pay and benefit advantage holds for both Black men and Black women,” read the report. “The regression-controlled union wage premium is 18.1 percent for Black men and 13.1 percent for Black women. For Black men, the union effect on health insurance coverage is 21.8 percentage points and the effect on retirement is 24.3 percentage points. For Black women, the union effect on health insurance coverage is 15 percentage points and on retirement, 15.4 percentage points.”

Even in traditionally low-wage occupations, Black workers can reap benefits if they’re union-affiliated. The report focused on 15 low-wage occupations (including food prep, child care, cashier and janitor) and concluded that while Blacks made up over 11 percent on total employment from 2008 to 2013, they made up over 18 percent of all workers in the low-wage occupations studied.

“The effect of unionization for Black workers in low-wage occupations is comparable to that of all Black workers,” read the report. “The union wage premium is somewhat larger for Black workers in low-wage occupations (19.7 percent) than it is for Black workers overall (15.6 percent). Unionization also raises the likelihood that Black workers in low-wage occupations have health insurance by 10.6 percentage points (compared to a 17.9 percentage-point increase for Black workers overall). Union representation boosts participation in an employer-sponsored retirement plan by 19.5 percentage points (compared to a 19.1 percentage-point difference for the average Black worker).”