Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on SmartAsset.com.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says about 1 in 10 workers were union members in 2020 (10.8%). Membership has increased by 0.5% since 2019, but has decreased by more than half since 1983, when around 1 in 5 workers were union members (20.1%). Since the founding of the first union by Philadelphia shoemakers in 1794, organized labor has played an influential role in the American workforce, establishing and defending workers’ rights. With that in mind, SmartAsset analyzed the numbers to see where the unions are strongest across the country.
To do this, we considered seven metrics: percentage of workers who are union members, the four-year change in union membership, average annual wage of all workers, average annual wage of middle school teachers, salary ratio of teachers for all occupations, average annual wage for firefighters, and the salary ratio of firefighters for all occupations . We looked specifically at teachers and firefighters as these two professions generally have the highest union membership rates, according to the BLS. For more information on our data sources and how we put all of the information together to create our final rankings, see the Data and Methodology section at the end.
Read the 2020 edition of the SmartAsset study on the countries with the strongest unions.
Oregon ranks in the top 20 on all of the metrics we measure. The state has the seventh-highest percentage of both union workers (16.20%) and four-year union membership (an increase of 20.34%). Oregon also ranks ninth for the salary ratio of firefighters to all occupations – firefighters earn 111.95% of the average salary of all workers.
2. Rhode Island
Rhode Island ranks in the top 10 for three different metrics. It has the third highest percentage of unionized workers (17.79%), the fifth highest salary ratio for teachers in any occupation (126.25%), and the eighth highest average annual income of middle school teachers ($ 76,050).
The median annual wage of all workers in Washington state is $ 66,870, the third highest median salary of any state in this study. Washington also ranks third in terms of firefighter salary ($ 77,700). Approximately 17.38% of all government employees are unionized, the fifth highest rate for this metric in this study.
Middle school teachers in Maryland earn an average annual salary of $ 77,770, the sixth highest annual income on this list. The median annual wage for all workers is $ 63,610, the seventh highest of any state studied. Firefighters, meanwhile, earn an average of $ 64,490 a year, the eighth highest salary for this metric in the entire study.
Firefighters in California earn the second highest average annual salary ($ 86,860), which is 132.13% of the average annual salary of all workers (also the second highest rate for this metric). The average annual wage of all workers in the Golden State is also at the high end, ranking fourth at $ 65,740.
6. New York
The Empire State has a union membership of 22.01%, the second highest in the country. New York ranks first on two metrics we used for teachers – middle school teachers earn an average of $ 89,150, which is 131.39% of the average annual salary of all workers.
Hawaii has the highest union membership in the country at 23.63%. Firefighters in the state make an average of $ 68,590 per year, which is 117.87% of the average salary of all workers. These numbers rank fifth and fourth in this study.
The salaries of the general unionized professions are high compared to the average for any industry in Pennsylvania. Teachers earn 129.14% of the average average salary of all workers, while firefighters earn 113.07% of the average average salary. These numbers rank fourth and eighth highest in the study. The median annual wage for all workers is $ 53,950 for the age of 18.
The median annual wage of all Connecticut workers is $ 65,450 – the fifth highest in this study. Middle school teachers make $ 81,140 and firefighters make $ 67,630, fourth and sixth highest, respectively. Union membership is 17.10%, the sixth highest of any country surveyed.
Nebraska tops the top 10 with union membership increasing 32.31% over the four-year period from 2016 to 2020, the second-highest jump for that metric in the study. Overall, union membership makes up 9.58% of the state workforce, placing it in the middle of the field in the study. In addition, the median salary is 31 at 50,260 US dollars.
Data and methodology
To find the states with the strongest unions, SmartAsset considered data from 49 states (Vermont had insufficient data) for the following seven metrics:
- Percentage of workers who are union members. The data comes from UnionStats.com and relates to 2020.
- Change of union membership for four years. The data comes from UnionStats.com and relates to 2016 and 2020.
- Average annual wage for all occupations. The data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and relates to the year 2020.
- Average annual wage for middle school teachers. The data comes from the BLS and relates to the year 2020. According to the BLS, there was one of the highest union organization rates among professional groups in 2020 in the areas of education, training and library professions. Middle school teaching is a prominent profession in this industry. Workers in this job tend to get a medium salary for all occupations in the industry.
- Salary ratio for teachers in all occupations. The data comes from the BLS and is for 2020.
- Average annual salary for firefighters. The data come from the BLS and relate to the year 2020. According to the BLS, one of the highest union organization rates in 2020 was in protection service professions. Firefighter is a prominent profession in this industry. Workers in this job tend to get a medium salary for all occupations in the industry.
- Salary ratio for firefighters in all professions. The data comes from the BLS and is for 2020.
First, we ranked each state on each metric. We then determined the average ranking for each state, giving the two metrics on union membership – the percentage of workers in unions and the four-year change in union membership – a double weight and the four metrics on average annual wages and a half weighting for salary rates for teachers and firefighters. We then used the average rankings to create our final rankings. The state with the highest average ranking received a score of 100 and the state with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0.
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