Unions, Workers, and Wages at the Peak of the American Labor Movement
49 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2017 Last revised: 4 Apr 2021
Date Written: June 2017
We study a novel dataset compiled from archival records, which includes information on men’s wages, union status, educational attainment, work history, and other background variables for several cities circa 1950. Such data are extremely rare for the early post-war period when U.S. unions were at their peak. After describing patterns of selection into unions, we measure the union wage premium using unconditional quantile methods. The wage premium was larger at the bottom of the income distribution than at the middle or higher, larger for African Americans than for whites, and larger for those with low levels of education. Counterfactuals are consistent with the view that unions substantially narrowed urban wage inequality at mid-century.
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