The Center for American Progress has released a report that uses data from the recent census to show that union membership has been central to creating and maintaining a strong middle class. The report documents that states with weak unions and low union membership all have weak middle classes. Virginia is one of those states.
In states with the lowest percentage of unionized workers – North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Oklahoma, and Texas – the share of income going to the middle 60 percent of the population is well below the national average. So, when people say that Virginia is a relatively wealthy state, they are using an artificial measure that discounts the income disparity between the rich and the rest of the state’s residents. That disparity has been growing in recent years.
The Center’s report also proves that over time the strength of the middle class and that of the union movement are closely linked. “In 1968, the share of income going to the nation’s middle class was 53.2 percent, when 28 percent of all workers were members of unions…By 2010, the middle class only received 46.5 percent of income as union membership dropped to less than 12 percent of workers.”
For all their shortcomings, strong unions have resulted in increased earnings for both members and non-members. They also increase election participation and provide political support for programs important to the middle class like Social Security, Medicare, family leave, minimum wage, safe workplaces and health care reform.
Thus, it is no surprise that the Republican Party attacks unions at every opportunity and is now embarked on a plan in several states to destroy public employee unions. In Virginia that anti-union bias has been bipartisan for decades. The middle class has suffered as a result.