Today is Labor Day, but exactly what is it we are celebrating?
New York City hosted the first, unofficial, Labor Day on Sept. 5, 1882, when 10,000 workers associated with the Central Labor Union paraded through Manhattan streets. It was an event organized by Peter J. McGuire, then-secretary of the city’s Carpenters and Joiners Union, and the idea of celebrating laborers on the first Monday of each September quickly took hold across the country.
By 1894, the observance was a federal holiday, signed into law by President Grover Cleveland.
In the 117 years since, there has been a lot to celebrate about American workers and the American work ethic, and a lot to worry about as the ever-churning economy flies up and flops down.
In July, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 153.2 million Americans 16 and older in the nation’s labor force. That’s just under half of everyone now living in this country.
Of those working, 3 million are teachers. Another 1.4 million are janitors.
Bus drivers account for 265,429 jobs, and bakers 117,405 jobs. There are 55,733 telemarketers working in the United States, and 395,503 hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists.
Professional actors? A mere 10,980.
According to the census, in 2009 the real median earnings for men working full time was $47,127. For women, the figure was $36,278.
The highest weekly wage is in Santa Clara, Calif., at $1,943 average per week.
Of the 153.2 million Americans working, 26.2 million are women in management or professional occupations and 24 million men are working in similar positions or fields.
Of those employed, 5.9 million worked from home in 2009. That’s a drop from 2005, when 8.1 million Americans worked from home, and the less than 6.7 million who worked from home in 1999.
There are 16.5 million Americans who get out of bed to leave for work between midnight and 5:59 a.m. each day, which is about 12.4 percent of all commuters.
Most of us, 76.1 percent, drive to work alone. Another 10 percent carpool, and (not including taxi service) a mere 5 percent commute using public transportation.
The average time it takes to get to work is 25.1 minutes. The commute in New York is longer, with an average of 31.4 minutes, followed only by commuters in Maryland who take, on average, 31.3 minutes to drive to work.
Then, there are the extreme commuters, the 3.2 million Americans whose commute is 90 or more minutes every day. That's 7.5 hours in the car every five-day workweek which, for some people, is an entire work shift.
Of Americans working from home, an estimated 11 percent of them say they work 11 or more hours in a typical day compared to just 7 percent of Americans who work that many hours in jobs outside the home.
The hottest job in the nation right now is in network systems and data communication analysis, with a 53 percent projected growth in this category expected between 2008 and 2018. While this may be the fastest-growing category, the greatest growth in employee positions during the same time frame will be for registered nurses, an estimated growth of 581,500 jobs during the same 10-year period.
An estimated 84.7 percent of all full-time workers, age 18 to 64, were covered by health insurance during all or part of 2009, according to the Census. That leaves 15.3 percent, or an estimated 2.3 million full-time workers with no health insurance coverage.
That so many Americans are working without the benefit of health insurance is nothing to celebrate, but the people who labor every day to keep this nation working are definitely worthy of celebration.
Do that today.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.