Sep 1, 2009

Another Lost Generation? Not With a Union Voice.

I graduated from college right before 9/11. I had a bachelor's degree from a good state college, and struggled for years to find a decent-paying job. I sometimes went without health care coverage--not because I didn't want it, but because I couldn't afford it. Meanwhile, I tried to keep up with student loan payments, paying for rent, utilities and food, all while working a series of low-wage jobs. I finally gave up and went to graduate school--not least because there, I knew my student loan payments would be deferred, and I would be able to purchase (relatively) cheap insurance from my school.

I was lucky. My husband and I were lucky to find good jobs after our graduate programs ended. Since I belong to a union (and work for one), I have good, affordable health care coverage for both of us, too. But many people my age and younger have not been so lucky.

A new report, "Young Workers: A Lost Decade," conducted in July 2009 by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO and Working America, details exactly how and why our country has failed young workers in the last decade. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka described the findings:
We're calling the report "A Lost Decade" because we're seeing 10 years of opportunity lost as young workers across the board are struggling to keep their heads above water and often not succeeding. They’ve put off adulthood—put off having kids, put off education—and a full 34 percent of workers under 35 live with their parents for financial reasons.
Some of the report's key findings:
  • 31 percent of young workers report being uninsured, up from 24 percent 10 years ago, and 79 percent of the uninsured say they don’t have coverage because they can't afford it or their employer does not offer it.
  • Strikingly, one in three young workers are currently living at home with their parents.
  • Only 31 percent say they make enough money to cover their bills and put some money aside—22 percentage points fewer than in 1999—while 24 percent cannot even pay their monthly bills.
  • A third cannot pay their bills and seven in 10 do not have enough saved to cover two months of living expenses.
These findings show plainly that it's more important than ever for labor unions and union members to reach out to young workers. Many don't know how much better the odds are for young workers when they belong to a union. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR),there is a substantial boost in wages and benefits for unionized workers between the ages of 18 and 29:
  • On average, unionization raises young workers' wages by over 12% – about $1.75 per hour.

  • Young workers in unions are about 17 percentage points more likely to have health insurance than those not in unions.

  • Young unionized workers are about 24 percentage points more likely to be in a pension plan than their non-union counterparts.
As the retail workers' union, UFCW represents a lot of young workers at our grocery stores and non-food retail stores, and they see the value of a voice in the workplace everyday, whether it's dental benefits, paid time off, flexible hours, affordable health care, or real job security.

As UFCW members, and indeed as members of everyone labor union, we have to spread the word and reach out to our friends, our neighbors and to all young workers who have the most to gain from belonging to a union.

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