Jobless Claims Rise Slightly; Union Membership Declines

(CN) – More Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, but the slight uptick in jobless claims suggests most employers are holding onto their workers. In a separate report, the government found union membership continues to decline.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that weekly claims for jobless benefits rose by 22,000 the week ending Jan. 20 to a seasonally adjusted 259.

Meanwhile, the government said the less volatile four-week average was 245,500 — down by 2,000 and the lowest four-week average since November 1973.

Put another way, the Labor Department says 2.1 million Americans are currently collecting unemployment checks, down 6.6 percent from a year ago.

Weekly claims have now come in below 300,000 for 99 straight weeks, the longest streak since 1970.

A separate report released Thursday by the Labor Department’s  Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the nation’s union membership rate — the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions — was 10.7 percent in 2016, down 0.4 percentage point from 201.

The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions was 14.6 million in 2016, a decline of 240,000 compared to 2015.

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 data on union membership are collected as part of the bureau’s current population survey, a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 eligible households that obtains information on employment and unemployment among the nation’s civilian noninstitutional population ages 16 and over.

The survey found that public-sector workers had a union membership rate (34.4 percent) more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.4 percent).

Workers in education, training, and library occupations and in protective service occupations had the highest unionization rates (34.6 percent and 34.5 percent, respectively).

The bureau also found that men continued to have a slightly higher union membership rate (11.2 percent) than women (10.2 percent), and that black workers were more likely to be union members than were white, Asian, or Hispanic workers.

The median weekly earnings of nonunion workers ($802) were 80 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($1,004).

Among states, New York continued to have the highest union membership rate (23.6 percent), while South Carolina continued to have the lowest (1.6 percent).

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