For a group of presidential candidates who claim to be interested in the plight of the American worker, it was surprising that no one onstage for the first Democratic debate two weeks ago didn't once say the world "union." Well, technically, that's not correct—Anderson Cooper pointed out that Bernie Sanders honeymooned in the Soviet Union—but the point remains.*
A raft of research—some new, some old—suggests that it’s a shame that unions were absent in Democrats’ most publicized recent conversation. Some of that research is coming from unlikely places; the International Monetary Fund, for instance, recommended reviving unions as a way for democracies to grow their economies and boost productivity.
In the U.S., where less than 9 percent of private-sector workers are organized, they could use a revival. The U.S. has one of the lowest unionization rates in the world, far behind Germany and Canada, and closer to Mexico and South Korea.
The U.S.’s low unionization rates come with consequences for its workers. It leads rich nations in low-wage jobs—more than 20 percent of jobs pay less than two-thirds of the median wage. And the U.S. ranks in the bottom third of countries in terms of its work-life balance. Americans work about 1,790 hours per year on average, but workers in most wealthier nations work less than 1,600. 11.8 percent of American adults work long hours; less than 1 percent of Dutch workers put in more than 50 hours a week.