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Upward Mobility for Union Families

Daniel Hinton's picture
Sep 30, 2015

Facts sure have a pro-union bias, don't they?

A new study from Harvard University, Wellsley College, and the Center for American Progress shows that people are more likely to move up the economic ladder if they grew up and live in areas with higher union density. Other studies have recently shown that unions close the racial wage gap and are gaining ground on popularity by the day.

Though the strongest factor in economic mobility appears to be single motherhood, union membership also correlates with the socioeconomic status of the next generation. The union boost is substantial, even when controlling for the child poverty rate and median house price in the same area.

As the study says, "Mobility thrives in areas where unions thrive."

Researchers looked at two separate but related measurements. The first — an area-level analysis — shows the broader effects of unions and the benefits they bring to the whole community of union and non-union workers. Union membership had a positive impact on people of all income levels living within the same area, especially those lower on the economic scale.

The other measurement — an individual-based comparison between parents and their children — clearly indicates that unions improve intergenerational mobility. The children of union workers usually earn higher wages and achieve higher levels of education than their counterparts from non-union families.

The authors of the study suggest that union membership may be necessary, though not sufficient, for upward intergenerational mobility. They also call for legislative action: "A serious policy agenda aimed at boosting intergenerational mobility must include polices that will increase the bargaining power of workers."

Read their full study here.

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