Labor Day, labor dollars, labor hours

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.

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The more things change

In 1894, after the brutal suppression of the Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland declared the first Monday of September the day to honor workers. He did this to save his political hide because he had built up so much ill will among the voters not out of respect for workers. It did not help him. He lost the next election anyway. The more things change the more they stay the same. I searched high and low for recognition and appreciation in the media for the contributions of workers to our national interest. In times like these when there is an abundance of workers and a shortage of jobs the worker is taken for granted. When jobs are plentiful and workers are scarce it's another story. I often wonder how much this factors into some political strategies.

Glen Lee's picture

What does labor stand for today?

Is it this:
I certainly would not be proud to be a union member with Hate speech coming out of a Labor Boss like this.
With The Great Divider and his civility I want no part of it!

 's picture

the whole quote

“Everybody here has a vote,” Hoffa said Monday. “If we go back and we keep the eye on the prize. Let’s take these sons of bitches out and give America back to America where we belong.” It's easy to get all riled up when quotes are cut off or taken out of context. For example, "I have a camera. I want to shoot congress." Throw out the camera part, voila! Low info right wing outrage!

Glen Lee's picture

Whole Qoute Wrong

Im not going to link anything for you, but you really need to do better than this. Typical misinformation about the left in this country. Hint: there are plenty of true info that come from independant bloggers, there is also his speech that Televised on CNN but was never asked about it, imagine that.

Amedeo Lauria's picture

The Way Ahead

Chris - Several good points and nice to have a reasoned give and take on this topic; so refreshing. Certainly not saying we should return to the days of the Robber Barons even though the results of their bold efforts were railroads criss-crossing this nation, electric and hydro power to produce American made goods, and water to much of Southern California among other things. When you talk of the rise of the middle class, it is directly related to the stimulous of Congress granting the GI Bill to those returning from WWII; as opposed to handing it out with no strings attached to people or corporations who made flawed choices. The GI Bill created legions of educated highly skilled individuals that were welcomed by the private sector and resulted in a tremendous rise in the standard of living in our country. Also, remember that loyalty used to be a two way street, old timers will tell you of the company softball teams and pride in the companies they worked for and the products they don't see too much of that anymore except maybe in the Silicon Valley or up in Oregon. The bottom line is we need to get this country rolling again; and the pitting of one group against the other is not the way to achieve it. I for one do not covet the rewards of the entrepreneur but applaud their efforts to produce products and services in an increasingly hostile business environment personal with sweat and blood. I'm glad we have political leadership in the state now that came to the same conclusion.

KRIS KUCERA's picture

Not to sing Kumbaya . . .

. . . but again, you make some excellent points, Amedeo, namely the GI Bill. I don't agree that LePage and the Maine GOP platform are the answer -- frankly, I think both are bananas -- but I am not dying to return to a spineless Baldacci-esque governor and total Democratic dominance in the Legislature either. Basically, whatever it takes to get more Mainers to work or back to work, well, I'm for that, as long as the workers are protected and offered some basic perquisites.

Incidentally, I played on Geiger's softball team when I worked there, as its director of communications, years ago. Good times. . . .

Steve  Dosh's picture

Labor Day, labor dollars, labor hours

. .Happy Labor Day l o n g weekend everyone ' Dolar ' comes from the Portuguese meaning ' pain , ' right Dolores ? :) and Aloha from Pahoa <3 Dr. Dosh and ohana <- type in Barack Hussein Obama . He's Irish isn't he ? 11.09.05 12:50 HST ?

 's picture

S-J ink

Thank you for making the effort to acknowledge workers on Labor Day. I was grateful to see a couple articles related to the real meaning of the day and not childbirth articles of the past.

KRIS KUCERA's picture

The Gilded Age revisited

Amedeo, you do have some valid points; however, don't you see the parallels between where we're at now (and where we're going) with the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, aka the Gilded age, what with so much money and oligarchal power in the hands of corporations and a cadre of uber wealthy individuals -- See: ExxonMobil, Wal-Mart, BP, Wall Street brokerage houses, the Koch Brothers, et al. -- that we are back to crony capitalism and further away from the cooperative commonwealth, where income and wages were more fairly distributed, and the middle class flourished?

Pure capitalism has too many losers. Socialism has no real incentive to work, and thus fails as a system. Yet if you look at the history of this country, our best times have been when we have a system of market capitalism with some governmental controls and, yes, stimuli. If you want all the power in the hands of the very few, as we see now, keep extolling the virtue of company interests over worker interests. It is not a zero sum game.

And the fact remains that the best companies to work for our companies that take care of their own. Yet, we see less and less of that these days. Heck, look at the rise of contractors. Why? Easier to hire and fire, no benefits -- merely cogs in the machine.

Amedeo Lauria's picture

Start a Business and make America a Better Place - I dare you!

Yes, God bless the dedicated workers in this country. However, I know it is often overlooked, so I thought I would mention it here today. Private sector companies are born, thrive, buy goods and services, pay salaries and taxes, and contribute to charitable causes on the labor and risks of the entrepreneur and those who labor in the private sector. Entrepreneurs who have a dream and put in countless hours of sweat equity to see their dream become a reality or crash and burn; dust themselves off and try again. It saddens me that there are people in our country who make quite a nice living on pitting management and labor against each other; like two animals in a small glass jar. Until we as a country realize that it is a symbotic relationship between management and labor that requires net profits to grow; we are in dire straights. Just for the record, my family were proud union members and I was for a time until I saw my union dues go toward political causes I could not defend. I will now hunker down for the onslaught from the usual suspects.

KRIS KUCERA's picture


4.5 unemployed workers for every job opening, not applicants. Oops.

KRIS KUCERA's picture

Labor over Capital

“Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” -Abraham Lincoln, 1861

Maybe, along with the mural removal, LePage can do away with Labor Day?

Think of two trillion+ of dollars corporations are off-shoring in Swiss-like accounts to avoid paying corporate income taxes. And while corporate profits are up in many sectors, wages stagnate, health care becomes less affordable, and jobs remain scarce. They're 4.5 applicants for every job opening, because corporations are squeezing out American productivity to the breaking point. (Or they simply offshore the work.) Nobody in any of the other industrialized nations works more hours with less paid time off than Americans do. That's something to celebrate? Hugely divergent income disparity since Reagan is something to celebrate? All the friends I have in the local area who work their keisters off -- long shifts, nights -- with no paid days off, no health benefits, no sick pay . . . again, a reason to celebrate? Nay, a reason to be disgusted.

 's picture

I have to work today

I don't belong to a union so I don't get the day off as part of my contract agreement. If I want it off, I have to use one of my limited earned time days. I do get paid extra for working the holiday, but there are people out there who get paid for NOT working on that day.
When everyone is paid the same amount for doing the same job regardless of whether or not they belong to a union, Then there will be a reason to celebrate Labor Day. Until then, it's just another day at work.

 's picture

I didn't ask them

to make the first Monday of September a national holiday. But I will accept the extra pay that is offered for working on that day, that is simply being practical. A hypocrite is a person who dares to condemn somebody else for the path they choose when they haven't walked it themselves. I'd say you fit that bill.

 's picture

As I said before, practicality.

Once upon a time, unions had their place. There are enough rules and regulations in place now that unions have become obsolete. Except of course for those people that are reaping the benefits of membership. Greater pay and benefits than their non-union counterparts.
None of the people working today for a union contributed a damned thing to any of the benefits that everyone enjoys today. Union membership today is a moneymaking scam. This is proven by the fact that unions are fighting right to work laws. They don't want anyone working in a union shop who they can't collect money from. Do your homework Dan.

 's picture

i got the day off because it

i got the day off because it wasn't "my holiday to work", and i'm scheduled to have to use choice time for it even though i didn't ask for it off. my choice time pays $3 less an hour then if i work, so i'd rather go in. it's also not one of the 3 holidays that we get paid extra for if you do work, though we still use less staff then on a normal weekday. i should be glad for it in this economy though. just remember to thank that kid that gives your cup of coffee at dunkin donuts or who bags your groceries today because they aren't even getting what i am.


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