Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Graph: BoogaLouie/Wikimedia Commons
If you're a political animal, then you'd already know that the victory of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in beating the recall election last Tuesday was heralded as yet another death knell in the popularity of labor unions in the United States (his opponents, however, argued that he won by outspening his rival by a 7 to 1 margin).
Indeed, as the graph above showed, union membership has been declining in decades. But what caused it?
Derek Thompson of The Atlantic argues that there's an economic reason to the decline in the power of the unions: the rise of technology. He pointed out the argument of Emin M. Dinlersoz and Jeremy Greenwood in "The Rise and Fall of U.S. Unions":
In the second half of the 20th century, the information age did a few things that badly hurt unions. First, robots replaced unskilled workers in factories. Second, IT created complicated machines and programs that required something more than assembly-line competence. (Third, although this isn't prominently featured in the article, multinational companies got savvier about offshoring cheap labor that wasn't automated.) Just as Ford's innovation had disproportionately empowered unskilled workers, who are more likely to unionize, the information age had had disproportionately empowered skilled workers, who are more likely to not unionize.