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How Does Declining Unionism Affect the American Middle Class and Intergenerational Mobility?

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  • Freeman, Richard Barry
  • Han, Eunice
  • Madland, David
  • Duke, Brendan

Abstract

This paper examines unionism’s relationship to the size of the middle class and its relationship to intergenerational mobility. Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) 1985 and 2011 files are used to examine the change in the share of workers in a middle-income group (defined by persons having incomes within 50 percent of the median) and use a shift-share decomposition to explore how the decline of unionism contributes to the shrinking middle class. The files are also used to investigate the correlation between parents’ union status and the incomes of their children. Additionally, federal income tax data is used to examine the geographical correlation between union density and intergenerational mobility. Findings include that union workers are disproportionately in the middle-income group or above, and some reach middle-income status due to the union wage premium; the offspring of union parents have higher incomes than the offspring of otherwise comparable non-union parents, especially when the parents are low-skilled; and offspring from communities with higher union density have higher average incomes relative to their parents compared to offspring from communities with lower union density. These findings show a strong, though not necessarily causal, link between unions, the middle class, and intergenerational mobility.

Suggested Citation

  • Freeman, Richard Barry & Han, Eunice & Madland, David & Duke, Brendan, 2016. "How Does Declining Unionism Affect the American Middle Class and Intergenerational Mobility?," Scholarly Articles 27304672, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:hrv:faseco:27304672
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. David Card, 1992. "The Effect of Unions on the Distribution of Wages: Redistribution or Relabelling?," NBER Working Papers 4195, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Bhashkar Mazumder, 2005. "Fortunate Sons: New Estimates of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States Using Social Security Earnings Data," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 87(2), pages 235-255, May.
    3. Barry T. Hirsch & David A. MacPherson, 2003. "Union Membership and Coverage Database from the Current Population Survey: Note," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 56(2), pages 349-354, January.
    4. Richard B. Freeman, 1980. "Unionism and the Dispersion of Wages," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 34(1), pages 3-23, October.
    5. Henrys Farber, 2005. "Nonunion Wage Rates and the Threat of Unionization," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 58(3), pages 335-352, April.
    6. David Neumark & Michael L. Wachter, 1995. "Union Effects on Nonunion Wages: Evidence from Panel Data on Industries and Cities," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 49(1), pages 20-38, October.
    7. Chul-In Lee & Gary Solon, 2009. "Trends in Intergenerational Income Mobility," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(4), pages 766-772, November.
    8. Pontusson, Jonas & Rueda, David & Way, Christopher R., 2002. "Comparative Political Economy of Wage Distribution: The Role of Partisanship and Labour Market Institutions," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 32(2), pages 281-308, April.
    9. Martin Gilens, 2014. "Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 9836.
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    1. How Does Declining Unionism Affect the American Middle Class and Intergenerational Mobility?
      by maximorossi in NEP-LTV blog on 2016-06-30 18:28:02

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