The union membership rate--the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions--was unchanged at 10.7 percent in 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.8 million in 2017, edged up by 262,000 from 2016. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.
The Republican-backed federal tax bill flipped the tables on a never-ending question for California politicians: Will high taxes lead the state’s wealthiest residents to flee the Golden State for the comparable tax havens of Florida, Nevada and Texas?
Republicans reliably raise that alarm when Democrats advocate for tax increases, like the 2012 and 2016 ballot initiatives that levied a new income tax on very high-earning residents.
The 2007 housing crisis was particularly tough on African-Americans, as well as Hispanics, extinguishing much of their already miniscule wealth. Industrial layoffs, particularly in the Midwest, made things worse.
However the rising economic tide of the past few years has started to lift more boats. The African-American unemployment rate fell to 6.8% in December, the lowest level since the government started keeping tabs in 1972. Although that’s 3.1 percentage points worse than whites, the gap is the slimmest on record. A tightening labor market since 2015 has also driven up wages of black workers, many of whom are employed in manufacturing and other historically middle and lower-wage service industries.
The official poverty rate in California, according to standards set by the U.S. Census Bureau, currently stands at 14.3%, just slightly ahead of the 12.7% national average. However, the Federal Poverty Line (FPL) is based on national cost-of-living averages, and fails to take into account the exorbitant cost of housing in the Golden State. A study conducted by United Way of California attempted to factor housing costs and produced a measure of California on a county-by-county basis. It showed some dismal findings for most Southern California counties. The problem here is simple: a cost of living more than double the national average, and mediocre income levels.
Given robust job growth and the prosperity generated by several industries, it's worth asking why California has fallen behind, especially when the state's per-capita GDP increased approximately twice as much as the U.S. average over the five years ending in 2016 (12.5%, compared with 6.27%).
It's not as though California policymakers have neglected to wage war on poverty.