State Drop in Union Membership Among Nation’s Largest

Since 2000, no state has seen a larger decline in the proportion of all employees who are union members than Wisconsin. While private sector union membership in the state has declined for decades, 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 likely contributed to a much steeper decline in public sector unions in recent years. Today, the vast majority of Wisconsin’s public sector union members are employed by K-12 schools.

New data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show nearly all states have seen a decline in the concentration of their workforce that is unionized over the last 20 years, but none more so than Wisconsin.

In 2000, 17.8% of all employed Wisconsinites were members of a union – the 10th-highest concentration in the country. By 2021, that number fell to just 7.9%, putting Wisconsin at 28th among states and below the national average of 10.3%. The 9.9 percentage point drop since 2000 for Wisconsin was the largest nationwide by nearly three percentage points, and substantially more than the national drop of 3.1 percentage points.

The 55.6% decline in the rate of union membership in Wisconsin over the same time period ranked second highest in the country, behind only South Carolina (whose overall membership was lowest nationwide in both 2000 and 2021).

Forum research finds that a combination of legislation aimed at curtailing public unions’ authority and broader national trends impacting
private union membership may help to explain Wisconsin’s drop-off.