November 2019

IZA DP No. 12786: Revisiting Union Wage and Job Loss Effects Using the Displaced Worker Surveys

Abhir Kulkarni, Barry Hirsch

published in: ILR Review, 2021, 74 (4), 948-976

Estimates of union wage effects have been challenged due to concerns over unobserved worker heterogeneity and endogenous job changes. Many believe that union wage premiums lead to business failures and other forms of worker displacement. In this paper, displacement rates and union wage gaps are examined using the 1994-2018 biennial Displaced Worker Survey (DWS) supplements to the monthly Current Population Surveys. For more than two decades, displacement rates among union and nonunion workers have been remarkably similar. We observe changes in earnings resulting from transitions between union and nonunion jobs following exogenous job changes. Consistent with prior evidence from the 1994 and 1996 DWS, we obtain longitudinal estimates of average union wage effects close to 15 percent, similar to standard cross-section estimates and suggestive of minimal ability bias. Wage losses moving from union to nonunion jobs exceed gains from nonunion to union transitions.