Center for American Progress

New Census Data Highlight Why the Middle Class Needs Strong Unions

New Census Data Highlight Why the Middle Class Needs Strong Unions

Policymakers should remember the importance of labor unions to help rebuild the middle class.

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The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau confirm that the economic strength of the U.S. middle class continues to stagnate and is well below its historic potential. Although the change was statistically insignificant, real median household income fell from $54,462 in 2013 to $53,657 in 2014.* And with middle-class incomes stagnating while incomes at the top rise, the share of income going to the middle class remains near record lows.

This trend is exacerbated by the continued slide in labor union membership. A historically low share of American workers—just more than 11 percent—were union members in 2014. Without strong unions to advocate for higher wages and policies to benefit workers, reversing trends of unequal growth and rebuilding the middle class will prove to be difficult.

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Alex Rowell

Policy Analyst

David Madland

Senior Fellow; Senior Adviser, American Worker Project