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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

Tech scrambles to derail inauguration threats

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech companies are sharing more information with law enforcement in a frantic effort to prevent violence around the inauguration, after the government was caught flat-footed by the Capitol siege.

Between the lines: Tech knows it will be held accountable for any further violence that turns out to have been planned online if it doesn't act to stop it.

Dave Lawler, author of World
2 hours ago - World

Uganda's election: Museveni declared winner, Wine claims fraud

Wine rejected the official results of the election. Photo: Sumy Sadruni/AFP via Getty

Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of a sixth presidential term on Saturday, with official results giving him 59% to 35% for Bobi Wine, the singer-turned-opposition leader.

Why it matters: This announcement was predictable, as the election was neither free nor fair and Museveni had no intention of surrendering power after 35 years. But Wine — who posed a strong challenged to Museveni, particularly in urban areas, and was beaten and arrested during the campaign — has said he will present evidence of fraud. The big question is whether he will mobilize mass resistance in the streets.

Off the Rails

Episode 1: A premeditated lie lit the fire

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 1: Trump’s refusal to believe the election results was premeditated. He had heard about the “red mirage” — the likelihood that early vote counts would tip more Republican than the final tallies — and he decided to exploit it.

"Jared, you call the Murdochs! Jason, you call Sammon and Hemmer!”