The Bureau of Labor Statistics unionization estimates for 2012, released this morning, are generally bad news for labor. The overall unionization rate fell 0.5 percentage points. The rate was down 0.3 percentage points in the private sector and 1.1 percentage points in the public sector. (CEPR's advance estimates were very close to the official numbers.)
The big drop in unionization in the public sector is rightly getting a lot of attention. The number of public-sector union members fell by 234,000 last year. This is partly the product of a decline in employment in the sector, which has seen employment fall every year since 2009.
But, the share of public-sector workers in unions also fell, from 37.0 percent in 2011 to 35.9 percent in 2012. This sizeable drop may well reflect the organized attacks against public-sector workers in states such as Wisconsin, where public-sector union membership dropped by about 48,000 workers.
But, it is still too early to tell. As the chart below shows, the unionization rate for public-sector workers has fluctuated in a narrow band since the late 1970s and this year's decline leaves union density in the public sector within that long-term range.