Want to be Happy? Join a Union

According to a recent Pew Research survey, half of the nation holds an unfavorable view of labor unions, which might explain why a majority of Americans still don’t have nice things – like happiness and food.

The U.N. 2013 World Happiness Report found that the top five happiest nations include Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Interestingly, the U.S. trails its neighbor Mexico, which means the richest nation on earth is less happy than a Third World nation.

So, what conditions best promote a happier human experience?

The answer is simple and unequivocal: the opposite of whatever the Republican Party has told you for the past three decades. In other words, happier people live in countries where the size of the state is bigger, taxes and spending is greater, and where collective bargaining laws protect a greater percentage of the labor force.

According to the report, happy people “live longer, are more productive, earn more and are also better citizens.” These countries are also ranked in the top 10 by the U.N for having the highest standard of livings, as determined by such markers as rates of crime, social equality, access to education and healthcare, pollution, and teen pregnancy.

The top 5 share a couple things in common: they like smoked fish that is far too salty, and they have the highest rates of union membership in the world. In these countries, the percentage of the working population that is covered by collective bargaining: Denmark (74 percent), Sweden (92 percent), Norway (77 percent), The Netherlands (82 percent), and Switzerland (45 percent).

So, what of the U.S? In terms of happiness, we rank 17th. In terms of standard of living, there are fourteen countries ranked above us. In terms of labor protection laws, the U.S. is ranked third last out of 20 OECD countries. The percentage of the labor force that is covered by collective bargaining is less than 10 percent. Any questions?

Labor unions gave us the weekend, fair wages, relative income equality, widespread health coverage, the Medical Leave Act, and helped end child labor. In the four decades that followed FDR’s New Deal, America built the healthiest middle class in the world. Unions and worker protection laws ensured everyone was paid a higher wage and enjoyed a comparatively better standard of living. Why? It meant skilled workers and those prepared to work the hardest rarely considered non-union supported jobs. Union protected jobs meant a better wage and benefits. Thus, non-union employers had to compete with the union companies, which meant wages were raised across the board.

The Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) analysis of Census data shows the middle class brings home a substantially larger share of aggregate earnings in states that have high rates of union membership than in those where fewer workers are organized. Moreover, the rise of income inequality over the past three decades mirrors the decline of union membership.

From the moment President Reagan declared war on the unions in the summer of 1981, when he fired 13,000 striking air traffic controllers and effectively destroyed their union, America has seen practically all its economic gains go to the top 1 percent. Today, a mere 400 hundred Americans own 50 percent of this nation’s wealth. Since 2009, 95 percent of all economic gains have gone to the top 1 percent, while nearly half of the nation remains economically insecure, with one in 7 families unable to consistently put enough food on the table. Income inequality and wealth disparity are the greatest issues of our time, but we can’t solve these problems, nor can we find a comparatively higher degree of happiness, while the popularity of labor unions remain as low as it is today.

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