On Friday 11 May, Dave Brady, Associate Professor of Sociology, will give a public talk entitled “When Unionization Disappears: Working Poverty in Comparative Perspective”. The lecture will be held at Lögberg 101, University of Iceland, at 12.00-13.00. It is organized by EDDA – Center of Excellence.

Although the working poor are a much larger population than the unemployed poor, poverty research has devoted much more attention to joblessness than to working poverty. Literature that does study working poverty tends to concentrate on demographics and economic performance and neglects the institutional context. This study examines the influence of one potentially important labor market institution for working poverty, the level of unionization. Using the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS) for the U.S., we conduct a series of analyses that demonstrate that state-level unionization has a robustly significant negative effect on working poverty. In the U.S., the effects of unionization are larger than the effects of economic performance and social policies. Beyond the US, we conduct a cross-national multi-level analysis of working poverty in 18 affluent democracies. In the comparative analysis, unionization also has a robust significant negative effect on working poverty. However, the effect is principally indirect, through encouraging generous social policies, which reduce working poverty. In both sets of analyses, we show that the effects of unionization do not appear to be biased by a selection effect on employment. We conclude that poverty research can advance by incorporating insights from the comparative literature on the institutional sources of labor markets and inequality.


David Brady is Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University and the Director of the Inequality Unit at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB). He earned his PhD at Indiana University. He studies poverty, work/labor, and policy/politics. He is the author of Rich Democracies, Poor People: How Politics Explain Poverty (Oxford University Press 2009) and over three dozen articles and chapters.