Union membership surged in the United States in the wake of the Great Depression and WWII. Organized labor peaked in the mid-1950s, when 35% of the workforce belonged to a labor union. Since then, union membership has declined and the power of organized labor has weakened considerably. Today, only 10.7% of U.S. workers are unionized.
While labor union participation has been declining for decades, the decline has been especially dramatic in some parts of the country in the last 10 years. Cities like Detroit, Michigan and Youngstown, Ohio are nowhere near the strongholds of organized labor they once were.
> Unionized workers 2006: 21.8%
> Unionized workers 2016: 14.0%
> 10 yr. workforce change: -51,985 (-2.7%)
> Industry shedding the most jobs: Manufacturing
The birthplace of the moving assembly line, Detroit was once a manufacturing powerhouse. Today, the Detroit metro area is a shadow of its former self. Increased automation of industrial operations and availability of cheap labor abroad have decimated the area’s manufacturing industry, which was once home some of the nation’s largest and most powerful labor unions.
In the last 10 years, union membership declined from 21.8% of the workforce to 14.0%, a 7.8 percentage point decline — the 15th steepest drop among U.S. metro areas and about seven times the decline nationwide.
In many of these cities, the decline of once dominant industries partially explains reduced union membership. In other areas, state laws that discourage collective bargaining have led to less participation in organized labor.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed 10-year changes in union membership to identify the cities where unions are disappearing. Of the 200 metropolitan areas reviewed, 15 cities reported a more than 7.5 percentage point decline in union participation between 2006 and 2016. For reference, 10.7% of the U.S. workforce is part of a union today, compared to 12% in 2006.