Study: Unionization Fell Last Year, But Illinois’ Middle Class Still Depends on Unions

Unions Boost Worker Wages by 11%

Chicago:  On Labor Day 2019, researchers from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and University of California, Irvine released the sixth annual State of the Unions report for Illinois. The study finds that unions play an important role in Illinois’ economy communities, despite declining union membership over the past decade.

Read the entire report, The State of the Unions 2019: A Profile of Unionization in Chicago, in Illinois, and in the United States, here.

Since 2009, Illinois’ union membership rate has declined by 4 percentage points. After a one-year uptick, Illinois’ unionization declined from 15.0% in 2017 to 13.8% in 2018. Unionization decreased in the Chicago metropolitan area by about 12,000 members over the year.


“Labor unions have recently faced many legislative and judicial setbacks including the Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which may have affected unionization rates,” said Professor Robert Bruno, who serves as Director of the Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

However, public sector workers continue to have high rates of union density. About half of all public sector workers are unionized in both Illinois (46.4%) and the Chicago metropolitan area (46.2%) as of 2018, exceeding the national public sector unionization rate (33.9%). In comparison, fewer than one-in-ten private sector workers (8.7%) are now union members in Illinois.


Despite declines in union membership, the report concludes that labor unions boost worker incomes by lifting hourly wages by an average of 11%. In addition, the authors find that African Americans, military veterans, and rural workers are disproportionately more likely to be union members in Illinois.

“Unions raise wages for everyone, but especially for low-income and middle-class workers,” said Frank Manzo IV, Policy Director of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute. “Unions reduce inequality, provide family-supporting careers for our nation’s heroes, and foster a strong middle class in communities across Illinois.”


Cover image from Flickr Creative Commons User, Charles Edward Miller (2018).