Summers: America Needs Strong Unions

Lawrence Summers comments on a a new study on unions and social mobility by Harvard colleague Richard Freeman and collaborators that shows “a significant correlation across American metropolitan areas between the extent of union membership and social mobility.”

“Chetty’s celebrated ‘equal opportunity map,’ “shows the average percentile rank of children who grow up in below-median income families across areas of the U.S. (absolute upward mobility). Lighter colors represent areas where children from low-income families are more likely to move up in the income distribution.”


“The map demonstrates that equality of opportunity is particularly bad in the old confederacy and particularly good in some of the old bastions of abolitionism. It is not therefore surprising that unions, which were concentrated in the North, turn out to be correlated with equal opportunity. More impressive is the research result that looking across families, fathers who are union members have children who earn at least 15 percent more than those who are not in union families, and that this stands up even with various control variables added. The implication is that supporting unions not only helps workers who are members themselves but also helps their children and communities as well.”

“Strengthening collective worker voice has to be an important component of any realistic American inclusive growth agenda.”


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