Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Overlooking the obvious

Since the midterm elections, there have been a number of stories about "What 'big thing' would reinvigorate the Democratic Party?" to quote the title of one of them.   There seems to be agreement that the problem is that middle-class and working-class incomes haven't been rising, but in the stories I've read no one has raised what seems like an obvious idea:  making it easier for workers to unionize (although Thomas Edsall hints at it).  Back when unions mattered, there was a good deal of research on the "union wage effect," and the consensus was that they raised wages by something like 20% on the average (more for low paid workers and less for high paid workers).  So unionization would help address the problem, and do it  without requiring taxes or spending.  

Is the lack of attention because unions have become so unpopular that it's not worth raising the issue?  In 1952, the Gallup poll asked " In the labor disputes of the last two or three years, have your sympathies--in general--been on the side of the unions or on the side of the companies?" a number of times.  After a long gap, the question was revived in 1999, and was also asked in 2002, 2005, and 2011.  Each time, a plurality said unions--the margin ranged from 3 (37% to 34%) to 18 (52%-34%) percentage points.  The average margin was 9.7% in 1952 and 10.5% in 1999-2011--the difference is not close to being statistically significant.  (There are some ups and downs, but they have no obvious pattern, so I don't show the graph).  So it seems like a pro-union effort would have a reasonable prospect of being popular with the public. 

[data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

1 comment:

  1. David:

    A quick google search gave the following link to a Gallup report:
    which says this:

    "Americans Approve of Unions but Support "Right to Work":
    Union approval at 53% while 71% favor right-to-work laws.
    A slim majority of Americans, 53%, approve of labor unions, although approval remains on the low end of Gallup's nearly 80-year trend on this question. Approval has been as high as 75% in the 1950s. Currently, 38% disapprove of unions. . . . At the same time Americans express greater approval than disapproval of unions, they widely support right-to-work laws. Those laws allow workers to hold jobs in unionized workplaces without joining a union. . . . In an update of a question asked in 1957, 71% of Americans said they would "vote for" a right-to-work law if they had the opportunity to do so, while 22% said they would vote against such a law. . . . Americans, though, are clearly less supportive of labor unions, and somewhat more supportive of right-to-work laws, than in the past. . . ."

    In comparison to your post above, I could see that (a) if it's unions vs. management, most people prefer unions, but (b) people support specific measures that are anti-union. To put it another way, people would probably also support anti-management laws. Unions aren't so popular but management could be less so.