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Home Publications Blogs CEPR Blog State-level Evidence that Unions Are Associated with Higher Economic Mobility

State-level Evidence that Unions Are Associated with Higher Economic Mobility

Written by Eric Hoyt and John Schmitt   
Tuesday, 05 June 2012 13:40

In a recent post at The Atlantic Cities blog, sociologist Richard Florida provides an interesting analysis of some of the findings of a new study by the Pew Center on the States on economic mobility in the United States.  Florida shows that, across the 50 states, there is a positive correlation between the degree of residents' upward mobility and state: median household income; high school graduation rates; public education spending per pupil; and openness to immigrant and LGBTQ communities.  His results help to expand the view of the sort of institutional and cultural contexts that support --or are at least associated with-- high economic mobility.

On the other hand, Florida also demonstrates that states with a higher share of their labor force in what he defines as “working class professions” have lower rates of upward mobility. But, his analysis overlooks the role of the most important working class institution: labor unions. The figure below uses the same Pew data analyzed by Florida to compare upward mobility across states with different levels of unionization. The graph shows a strong, positive relationship between the share of a state's workforce that is unionized and the Pew measure of upward mobility. The union data in the graph refer to 2011, but this is a long-standing relationship and a similar pattern holds for 1983, too (the earliest year for which comparable data are available).


Comments (2)Add Comment
written by FM, June 06, 2012 1:18
What is the PEW center for mobility? Is it an inter generational measure? Does is measure change in income, education, and/or occupation? This info would be good to know.
written by EH, June 06, 2012 11:48
For information on PEW's Economic Mobility of States Report see:


From the description of the report on the above link:

"The study measures economic mobility three ways. Absolute mobility measures residents’ average earnings growth over time. Relative upward and relative downward mobility measure people’s rank on the earnings ladder relative to their peers, and their movement up or down that ladder."

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