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Sun Feb 10, 2013, 06:51 AM

What It's Going to Take to Claw Back Middle Class Wealth from the 1% [View all]

http://www.alternet.org/economy/what-its-going-take-claw-back-middle-class-wealth-1




If you truly care about economic justice, then you've got to worry about the precipitous decline of labor unions in the United States. Just take a look at these two charts. The first shows the rise and decline of union membership in the private sector from the depths of the Great Depression to today. You can clearly see that unions were a very big deal from the mid-1930s to the early 1980s. By 1953, more than one out of three American workers were members of private sector unions. That means there was a union member in nearly every family.

Through the late 1950s and 1960s, the percentage of union members declined, but the absolute number continued to increase, peaking at nearly 21 million members in 1979, (largely due to the influx of public sector workers during the 1960s and 70s). Then the decline accelerated as the share of union members fell by half between the mid-1970s and the early 1990s. (If we include public employee union members, the current rate is 11.3 percent.)



The second chart traces the share of our national income grabbed by the top one percent of U.S. households. It's basically the inverse of the unionization chart. When unions were at their strongest, inequality was the lowest. In 1928, the top one percent hauled off 23.94 percent of all U.S. income. As unions grew, the income share for the richest dropped to less than 10 percent. And as unions declined, the income share going to the wealthiest shot right back up to 1928 levels.



It's not a coincidence. When unions are strong, they bargain for higher wages and benefits. At the same time, non-union employers increase wages and benefits to attract qualified workers and prevent unions from coming in. Also, unions work for legislation that benefits middle- and low-income people (unemployment benefits, minimum wage, progressive taxation, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security etc.). Overall, those efforts shift income from the top to the middle and bottom of the income ladder. (For more information on inequality, please see my new book, How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning Off America's Wealth ).

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