Fair wages and benefits, workplace rights and protections—unions are important for many reasons, but one only recently discovered benefit of unions is that they increase the likelihood of low-income children making it into the middle class. This finding comes from a recently released report by the Center for American Progress that found children from low-income families living in metro areas with higher percentages of people who belong to unions have a better shot at earning higher incomes as adults.
This discovery is particularly significant given that very few factors are as strongly correlated with upward economic mobility. A metro area’s rate of union membership is as highly or nearly as highly correlated with a low-income child’s chance of making it into the middle class as five other factors. These other factors with a strong positive or negative relationship are the rates of single motherhood, the degree of inequality, the high school dropout rate, the degree of residential segregation, and the amount of social capital (measured by factors including voter turnout and participation in community organizations).
The report’s authors write,
A serious policy agenda aimed at boosting intergenerational mobility must include policies that will increase the bargaining power of workers. The results from this report show that unions are a powerful force for improving the economic lives not just of organized workers, but of their offspring as well. It is possible that a strong union movement is not simply sufficient for high levels of intergenerational mobility, but it may be necessary. If that is the case, it will be difficult to meaningfully increase intergenerational mobility without also rebuilding unions or some comparable worker-based organizations.