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Expand chart
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Map: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has challenged 2020 Democratic candidates to prove their support and not to take the union vote for granted — but there are half as many union members today than there were just 35 years ago, according to the Pew Research Center.

Why it matters: Half of Americans say the decline of unions has had a negative impact on workers, according to a Pew Research Center survey. And it may be a central reason for stagnant wages and growing income inequality in the U.S., according to a new study by the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project.

Between the lines: President Trump's appeal to blue-collar workers was a major factor in his victories in what were once big union states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Hillary Clinton won the union vote by the narrowest margin in decades.

  • But the decline hasn't made labor a less important part of the Democratic coalition, as top 2020 candidates such as Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have already begun to woo union voters.
  • Our thought bubble, from Axios' Dan Primack: Sanders and Warren have been unabashedly pro-union. An argument could be made that one of them becoming president could be the one thing that could bring back unions. It would be a central part of their campaign — not a "take for granted" sidelight.

By the numbers:

  • Despite low wages and severe income inequality, the percentage of U.S. workers who are union members has fallen from 20.1% in 1983 to just 10.5% in 2018, according to Pew.
  • Dying union membership has been most pronounced in states such as Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — states where manufacturing employment has plummeted and Trump won in 2016, per Brookings.

The main reasons for the decline, according to Brookings:

  1. The shift from manufacturing to a services-based economy.
  2. More people are getting college degrees, and workers with a high school degree or less have typically been more likely to have union jobs.
  3. The rise of tech, with the attraction of more high-paying, nonunion jobs for the highest-skilled workers.
  4. Deregulation, which made it easier for nonunion employers to compete.
  5. The spread of right-to-work legislation, which allows for some workers to receive the benefits of unions without paying dues.
  6. Aggressive employers who have used tactics like delaying union elections, hiring consultants to help fight unionization and publicly opposing unions.

What to watch: Public sector unions have maintained their strength over the past several decades, according to Brookings. But a recent Supreme Court decision preventing public sector unions from collecting fees from nonunion employees could have a significant impact on membership.

Go deeper

46 mins ago - World

Brazil senators vote to recommend criminal charges for Bolsonaro

Brazilian senators vote on probe into President Bolsonaro's handling of pandemic. Photo: Gustavo Minas/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Brazilian Senate committee Tuesday voted to approve a report recommending President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with a raft of criminal indictments, including crimes against humanity over his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, per AP.

Why it matters: Bolsonaro has become the face of a right-wing approach to the pandemic that includes repudiating vaccines and masks and resisting lockdowns and other mitigation measures. The Senate report holds him personally responsible for half of the country's 600,000 deaths.

Former Georgetown tennis coach pleads guilty to accepting admissions bribes

Gordon Ernst (left) former head tennis coach at Georgetown, outside a courthouse in Boston in 2019. Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

A former Georgetown University head tennis coach has pleaded guilty Tuesday to bribery charges related to facilitating the admission of prospective applicants.

Why it matters: Gordon Ernst solicited and accepted bribes from William Singer, ringleader of the cheating scheme uncovered by Operation Varsity Blues, and families in exchange for helping prospective applicants get into Georgetown as student athletes, according to the Justice Department.

4 hours ago - Health

CDC says some immunocompromised people can get fourth COVID shot

Photo: Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in updated guidelines Tuesday that some immunocompromised people who have received either Pfizer or Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines will be able to get a fourth shot.

Details: People over 18 who are "moderately to severely immunocompromised" and have received three doses of an mRNA vaccine may get a fourth shot (of either the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines) at least six months after getting their third Pfizer or Moderna dose, per the CDC.