Joining a Union May Help You Live Longer
Seymour (Sy) Slavin, Ph.D.
Emeritus Director Kentucky Labor Institute
There are a multitude of reasons to join unions and keep them vital and strong. Belonging to a union, may help you live longer. An authoritative source, The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has been distributing copies of a study by Arline T. Geronimus, entitled, “Economic Inequality and Social Differentials in Mortality.”
The research shows that “there is an association between socio-economic position and mortality; in that each increment in level of education, occupational status or income is associated with a reduced risk of death.” (Adler et al 1993, Sorlie et al 1995)
What institution in society has a better record in society than trade unions in helping Americans increase their income?
There is a surplus of evidence and studies that shows that as unions increase their strength, workers improve their life chances and receive higher income. (Of course, there are other institutions in society working to diminish poverty, such as social welfare programs under government auspices, e.g. social security.)
For many years, American trade unions set the wage patterns and built a strong middle class.
This study also suggested that those steeped in “poverty and segregation had shorter life spans.” Another factor contributing to an earlier death, were those individuals “subject to a range of hazards in the physical and/or social environments.”
The findings in the study (and other studies as well) called important attention to the low levels of income in many Afro-American communities and how this has contributed to shorter life spans. Unions need to give greater attention to this important factor in their organizing priorities.
In Kentucky, we need to focus more attention on Appalachia, because data shows that the poverty rates in Appalachia are among the highest in America.
It’s remarkable that in 1999, conservative bankers, who generally make up the Federal Reserve Board, were making known the work of academic scholars on the effects of poverty on life chances and mortality. The Feds didn’t endorse these findings, but they did make them available to the public.
These early findings refute the call by right-wingers and republicans to cut back government programs, which attempt to lift people out of poverty. Racism, which engenders poverty, needs to be fought at every level by unions and other public and private institutions.
Strengthening and building unions are essential for helping the American working class to get out of poverty and thereby to live longer.
July 13, 2015
 FRBNY Economic Policy Review/ September 1999