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What Is Labor Day?


labor day photos
Photo credit: Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty Images

History of Labor Day:

The annual Labor Day holiday means more than an extra day to spend at the beach. The history of Labor Day stretches back over 100 years to the first known observance of Labor Day as a parade of 10,000 workers on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, organized by Peter J. McGuire, a Carpenters and Joiners Union secretary.

Within a decade, more than half of the U.S. states were observing a "Labor Day" of some kind. Congress established Labor Day as a federal holiday in 1894 and shortly thereafter, President Grover Cleveland designated the first Monday in September as Labor Day.

Who Does Labor Day Celebrate?:

If you work, Labor Day is a holiday to honor you. You're in good company: 154.4 million people aged 16 and older were in the U.S. labor force as of May 2010. Of those, 7.6 million hold down more than one job, and 4 million work full time at their day job and part time at their moonlighting gig. An industrious 284,000 work full time at both jobs!

There are 10.1 million self-employed workers in the U.S. As for telecommuting, 5.9 million people work at home and 10.3 million are independent contractors.

Labor Day Benefits Check:

Why do all those people work? It's not just to be eligible to celebrate Labor Day. The median full-time worker received earnings of $46,367 for men and $35,745 for women in 2008. The best-paid workers were in Santa Clara, Calif., where the average weekly wage reached $1,506 in the third quarter of 2009, the highest of the 334 biggest U.S. counties.

Pay isn't the only reason to work -- many people seek employment for the benefits. Of full time U.S. workers, 83 percent were covered by health insurance in at least part of 2008. Looking at private industry, 78 percent received paid vacation as one of their benefits.

Labor Day Celebrates All Jobs:

Your office may be full of accountants, but the country sports a variety of occupations. For instance, there are:

  • 7.2 million teachers
  • 1.7 million chief executives
  • 2.1 million janitors and building cleaners
  • 1 million computer software engineers
  • 874,000 electricians
  • 2.8 million registered nurses
  • 729,000 social workers
  • 441,000 members of the clergy
  • 773,000 hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists
  • 751,000 inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers and weighers
  • 751,000 farmers and ranchers
  • 1.9 million customer service representatives

Wait, We're Not Done!:

But those are just the most popular jobs. There are also:

  • 373,000 taxi drivers and chauffeurs
  • 351,000 chefs and head cooks
  • 293,000 firefighters
  • 234,000 roofers
  • 243,000 pharmacists
  • 409,000 machinists
  • 186,000 musicians, singers and musical types
  • 213,000 artists
  • 111,000 gambling workers
  • 105,000 Tax preparers
  • 87,000 service station attendants

The hottest occupations are network systems and data analysts, expected to grow 53 percent from 2006 to 2016, and registered nurses, which will add 587,000 positions in that same time period.

Women and Managers:

We may all feel overworked, but only 27 percent of workers spend more than 40 hours a week on the job. A mere 7 percent work 60 hours or more each week.

Looking at managers and professionals, 26.4 million were women and 24.7 million were men in 2008. About 10 percent of the labor force have been with their current employer for 20 years or more. Overall, people have spent a median 4.1 years at their current workplace.

About 12 percent of wage and salary workers are union members, or 16.1 million people, with Alaska, Hawaii and New York having the highest rates and North Carolina one of the lowest.

The Road to Work:

A large number of people leave for work between midnight and 5:59 a.m. -- 17.7 million, or 13 percent of all commuters. Looking at all workers, 5 percent take public transit, 11 percent carpool and 76 percent drive solo to work.

On average, the U.S. commute takes 25.5 minutes, with New York and Maryland taking the prize at over 31.5 minutes each. Extreme commuters number 3.5 million, meaning they're on the road for 90 or more minutes every day. Sure makes telecommuting look attractive, huh?

Source: the Census Bureau

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