Unexpectedly Intriguing!
23 February 2024
A stacked bar chart with two bars, shades of green image generated by Stable Diffusion

The Bureau of Labor Statistics issued its 2023 report on union members in the U.S. work force last month. The report was a mixed one for labor unions, which saw an increase in the number of Americans who are union members, but a decrease in their percentage among all wage and salary earners.

The report itself makes for dry reading, because it's mostly a text summary of information that's been otherwise compiled into data tables. For us, that's an opportunity because it's the kind of information that begs to be visualized.

For example, the report presents information on union membership in both the private and public sectors of the U.S. economy, but falls short in its presentation. Here's an excerpt (boldface emphasis ours):

In 2023, 7.0 million employees in the public sector belonged to unions, compared with 7.4 million workers in the private sector. (See table 3.)

In the public sector, both union membership and the union membership rate (32.5 percent) were little changed over the year. In 2023, the union membership rate continued to be highest in local government (38.4 percent), which employs many workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as police officers, firefighters, and teachers.

The number of union workers employed in the private sector increased by 191,000 to 7.4 million in 2023, while the unionization rate was unchanged at 6.0 percent. Industries with high unionization rates included utilities (19.9 percent), transportation and warehousing (15.9 percent), educational services (12.9 percent), and motion picture and sound recording industries (12.1 percent). Low unionization rates occurred in finance (1.2 percent), professional and technical services (1.3 percent), food services and drinking places (1.4 percent), and insurance (1.5 percent).

Those are certainly numbers. Fortunately, they are numbers that are relatively easy to visualize. We've done that with the following chart visualizing a portion of the data we emphasized and adding some basic text to tell the bigger story.

U.S. Union Membership by Employment Sector, 2023

Presenting the data this way provides a visual sense of how the numbers in the both private and public sectors directly compare with each other. The alternative would be to go down to Table 3 in the report and then scroll up and down within it to where the referenced data. Using the stacked bar chart format also visually communicates the share of union members among all workers in each sector.

We added the "By the Numbers" text to explicitly state the percentage data and the year-over-year increase in union membership. We also added a bonus data point, describing the now seven decade-long trend in falling union membership the BLS report only partially covers because they've only been reporting it for four decades.

In any case, there's quite a lot of data within the report that may be interesting, like the percentage breakdown of union members by occupation or industry. Some of it may even be worth visualizing, but we'll leave that as an exercise to other dataviz enthusiasts! How would they make this report more visually engaging?


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union Members - 2023. Table 3. Union affiliation of employed wage and salary workers by occupation and industry, 2022-2023 annual averages. [PDF Document]. 23 January 2024.

Pew Research Center. 10 facts about American workers. [Online Article]. 29 August 2019.

Image credit: Stable Diffusion. Prompt: "A stacked bar chart with two bars, shades of green."

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