Unions Continue To Build Wealth for All Americans

New data show unions increase wealth across education levels and close racial wealth gaps.

Photo shows a row of partially assembled cars with a worker standing on the side
Workers assemble cars at an auto assembly plant in Chicago, June 2019. (Getty/Jim Young/AFP)

New data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) highlight how important unions continue to be for increasing Americans’ wealth—the total value of what people own minus the value of all their debts. The data show that the median union household has significantly more wealth than the median nonunion household, and these large wealth differences hold across various demographic groups, including race and ethnicity as well as education levels.

The newly released data covering assets in 2022 demonstrate that:

  • Union households possess 1.7 times the median wealth of nonunion households.
  • Union membership narrows the racial wealth gap, closing the distance between the wealth of white households and that of Black, Hispanic, and members of the “other or multiple race” category. Membership in a union increases median wealth between 167 percent and 228 percent for households of color compared with a 37 percent increase in median wealth for white households.
  • The median wealth of union households is greater than that of nonunion households across every education level. Union contracts provide the largest percentage increase in median wealth for households without a high school degree compared with all other levels of educational attainment.
  • Union membership closes the wealth gap between working-class and college-educated households. The median wealth of nonunion working-class households is 21 percent of the wealth of college-educated nonunion households, whereas the median wealth of union working-class households is 49 percent of that of college-educated union households.
  • Union households are more likely to own a home and have a retirement plan compared with nonunion households.

These findings are consistent with Center for American Progress analysis of surveys from prior years, which found union membership is associated with significantly higher wealth for all households and tends to provide the biggest boost to groups who have historically had less wealth, such as Black and Hispanic households as well as those without a college degree.

Unions can help increase household wealth for three key reasons. First, they increase wages through the negotiation of strong contracts. Second, union workers experience greater job stability, enabling workers to remain with the same employer for an extended period. This can increase wealth by reducing the costs of finding a new job. Third, union contracts are more likely to provide enhanced benefits such as pension plans and health insurance, creating additional savings for workers.

Wealth matters greatly to achieving financial security. It shields workers from economic shocks, helps fund retirement, and enables future generations to save and achieve economic stability. For example, workers with additional savings can cover emergencies, buy a home, and better support their children.

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Survey findings

In 2022, the median union household had significantly higher wealth than the median nonunion household. As shown in Figure 1, union households hold $338,482 in median wealth while nonunion households hold $199,948, meaning a typical union household is 1.7 times as wealthy as a typical nonunion household.

Race and ethnicity

The wealth benefits of unions extend to all racial and ethnic groups. However, the greatest percentage wealth increases appear among households of color. While union white households have 37 percent more median wealth than nonunion white households, union households of color have between 167 percent and 228 percent more median wealth than nonunion households of color.

Similarly, the union wealth premium—or the ratio of median union household wealth to median nonunion household wealth—is significantly higher for households of color than for white households. As shown in Figure 2, median union household wealth is $397,700 for white households, $164,557 for Black households, $189,835 for Hispanic households, and $527,342 for other or multiple race households. Therefore, the union wealth premium is 137 percent for white households but 267 percent for Black households, 328 percent for Hispanic households, and 304 percent for other or multiple race households. Since the union wealth premium is much higher for households of color, union membership can help narrow the racial wealth gap. Union contracts can thereby help address systemic racial inequality.

Education levels

Union membership is also particularly beneficial for working-class households, defined as those without a college degree. The median union household has more wealth than its nonunion counterpart at every education level measured: for workers with less than a high school degree, those who have completed high school, those with some college, and those who have a college degree or higher. The union wealth premium is greatest in percentage terms for workers without a high school degree. In dollar terms, the premium is highest for households with some college education. As shown in Figure 3, the median wealth for union households without a high school degree is $69,510, but it is only $22,800 for nonunion households—a union wealth premium of 305 percent. The median wealth for union households with some college education is $338,482 compared with $128,350 for nonunion households—a difference of $210,000. Thus, union workers without a high school degree enjoy triple the median wealth, and union workers with some college education enjoy the greatest dollar gains over their nonunion peers.

This union wealth premium can help close the gap between working-class households and college-educated ones. While the median wealth of nonunion working-class households is only 21 percent of the wealth of college-educated nonunion households, the median wealth of union working-class households is 49 percent of that of college-educated union households. As shown in Figure 4, working-class nonunion households have $98,800 in median wealth, while working-class union households have $262,600 in median wealth, significantly closer to the median wealth of nonunion college graduates ($476,105)—thus helping close the education wealth gap. Unions offer working-class households another path to the middle class beyond a four-year college degree. Union households with a college degree have the highest median wealth, at $533,436.

Benefits across wealth measures

Across several measures, union membership is associated with substantial benefits for workers, particularly workers of color and those without college degrees. The following tables show seven key measures where unions can help workers: median household wealth, median wealth-to-income ratio, homeownership rate, share of households with a 401(k) plan, share of households with a defined benefit pension, median value of defined benefit pension (for households with a pension), and median value of retirement wealth (for households with positive retirement wealth). Table 1 shows these measures for unions overall, Table 2 by race and ethnicity, and Table 3 by education level. These metrics demonstrate that union households nearly always have increased wealth, higher homeownership rates, and greater retirement wealth than nonunion households.


The relationship between union membership and wealth is significant and demonstrates the crucial role unions play in empowering workers. These 2022 metrics are consistent with CAP’s prior findings from nearly a decade of Survey of Consumer Finances data. At a time of high economic inequality, these metrics show union contracts can close wealth gaps across race and education dimensions and provide pathways to the middle class for all Americans.

Although the public broadly supports unions, and workers would increasingly like to join them, there are still many obstacles to union membership. In approximately one-third of union organizing campaigns, for instance, employers fire workers, despite it being illegal to do so. Companies face few financial repercussions because federal labor law lacks sufficient enforcement mechanisms to ensure workers can exercise their rights to join unions and bargain collectively.

Policymakers need to act and can start by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act. These reforms will protect workers’ rights, provide incentives to unionize, and hold lawbreaking companies accountable.

Lastly, employers can make a difference today by respecting their workers’ right to unionize—rejecting activities such as worker intimidation and delayed proceedings. With these actions, workers and the public can enjoy the benefits of union membership.


This analysis builds on previous CAP work that demonstrated the existence of a union wealth premium, which in turn reduces racial and educational wealth gaps. Previously, the authors used nearly a decade of Survey of Consumer Finances data that include demographic and wealth data for households across the United States, spanning from 2010 through 2019 and collected every three years. For this analysis, the authors used newly released data from the SCF covering assets in 2022.

The total wealth results presented in this paper persist even after accounting for other factors such as age, education, income, job stability, industry, and occupation, to name some of the most relevant ones. In addition, previous peer-reviewed analysis from two of the authors has demonstrated that the union wealth premium remains significant even when additional controls are taken into account. While it is possible that union members are simply more likely to work in higher-paying jobs or industries, as union density can vary considerably across sectors, a large body of research has shown that unions increase wages and other factors that allow households to build and maintain wealth.


The authors restricted the sample to only include households whose head of household or spouse is age 25 or older, not retired, and earning a wage or salary. This ensures that the nonunion households included are representative of workers who could enjoy wealth premiums if they joined unions. Retired or self-employed respondents, for instance, could not join.

This analysis counted a household as a union household if its respondents or respondents’ spouses were covered by a union contract, regardless of whether those workers were union members. Therefore, the analysis may understate the role of unions because only one member of a household needed to be covered by a union contract for the entire household to be considered covered. For ease of language, the authors referred to the households included in the analysis as both “union households” and “union members.” The SCF data used “primary economic unit” as the original unit of analysis, which is close to the definition of households used here. The SCF report states, “The PEU [primary economic unit] is intended to be the economically dominant single person or couple (whether married or living together as partners) and all other persons in the household who are financially interdependent with that economically dominant person or couple.”

Households were considered “working class” if the respondent did not have a four-year college degree; households with a respondent with a four-year college degree or higher credential were considered “college educated.” Defining economic class by education, rather than income, allowed for more direct comparisons within and across class, as level of education remains relatively consistent for members of the labor force and does not vary as considerably with age or experience.

The analysis measured wealth as the sum of all marketable assets—such as checking accounts, real estate, stakes in firms, and vehicles—less all debt, including mortgages, credit card debt, and student loans. The wealth figure also includes the net present value of the income stream that workers expect to receive from a defined benefit pension if they have one. Defined benefit wealth calculations were provided by Alice Henriques Volz and John Sabelhaus from the National Bureau of Economic Research’s “Social Security Wealth, Inequality, and Lifecycle Saving.” These values were adjusted for inflation—as were all dollar amounts in this analysis—and reported in 2022 U.S. dollars. The analysis focused on median wealth to convey outcomes of the typical household. Averages are often not as representative, as they are skewed by the top few percentages of households holding much more wealth than other households.

The “other or multiple race” category reported in this analysis includes all SCF respondents who do not solely identify as white, Black or African American, or nonwhite Latino or Hispanic, resulting in a diverse group that also includes Asian, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and other race or ethnicity, as well as multiple race or ethnicity households. Despite the diverse universe of experiences in this category, the Federal Reserve combines these households into one group due to sample size limitations before releasing its datasets to the public.

Furthermore, while the Federal Reserve reports Black or African American as the same category, for simplicity, the authors reported this group as Black; similarly, the authors used Hispanic to report survey data that combine nonwhite Hispanic and Latino into the same response.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


David Madland

Senior Fellow; Senior Adviser, American Worker Project

Christian E. Weller

Senior Fellow

Sachin Shiva

Research Assistant


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