A new report from the Economic Policy Institute, a research group that advocates on behalf of low- and middle-income workers, calculates how much more nonunion private-sector workers would have earned in 2013 had private-sector union membership remained at 1979 levels.
For men, wages would have been 5 percent higher, an average of $2,704 annually, and those with less education would have seen greater impact, the report said.
Nonunion men with a high school diploma or less, the demographic most likely to be unionized, would have seen 9 percent higher wages, or an average of about $3,172 annually, had union membership in similar industries and regions remained at 1979 levels, according to the report.
Some studies have shown collective bargaining bolsters wages of all workers, regardless of union status, by establishing industry standards or encouraging nonunion employers to raise pay to discourage their workers from organizing.
The weakness of unions today has markedly reduced that wage effect, to as much as one-half of what it was in the late 1970s, the report says.
Women, who were far less likely to be unionized than men in the 1970s, would have seen 2 or 3 percent higher pay, or $718 annually for full-time work, had unions maintained their power over the decades, the report says.
That amounts to $24 billion in lost wages annually for all nonunion private-sector women, and $109 billion for all nonunion private-sector men.
“In the debates over the causes of wage stagnation, the decline in union power has not received nearly as much attention as globalization, technological change, and the slowdown in Americans’ educational attainment,” the authors write in the report.
Union membership among private-sector men has declined from 34 percent in the late 1970s to 10 percent in 2013; among women, it fell from 16 percent to 10 percent, according to the report. During that time, inflation-adjusted wages have declined 13 percent for nonunionized private-sector men with only a high school diploma or less, and 11 percent among those with some college but no degree.