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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 09/ 6/2010

Things you should know about Labor Day

By Valerie Strauss

Labor Day is the perfect day to explain to kids complaining about going back to school just how much worse things could be for them.

In fact, they once were: Kids were forced into back-breaking jobs day and night in mines, textiles, glass factories, canneries and other places where children don't belong. Labor activists eventually ended child labor -- and won better working conditions for adult workers, including the eight-hour work day.

Today, though, few schools teach in depth about the labor movement and I doubt many kids know what the holiday is intended to honor.

To help you use this holiday as a learning experience for your children -- which is exactly what I knew you were planning to do today -- here are some facts and figures and history kindly assembled by the U.S. Census Bureau and other government agencies.

It’s your government at work.

Celebrated--On the first Monday in September, Labor Day honors the social and economic contributions that the American worker has made to the growth nealth and prosperity of the country.

It was first celebrated in this country in the 1880s -- at a time when people commonly worked 12-hour days. The first Labor Day rally, in 1882, was in support of an eight-hour workday.

Founder of Labor Day:There is still some doubt about who first proposed a holiday to honor workers. Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."

But McGuire's claim on Labor Day history has been challenged; many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York, and the first Labor Day rally was held that year. By 1893, more than half the states were observing a “Labor Day” on one day or another, and Congress passed a bill to establish a federal holiday in 1894. President Grover Cleveland signed the bill soon afterward, designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day.

Who Are We Celebrating?
154.4 million
Number of people 16 and older in the nation’s labor force in May 2010.

Employee Benefits
Percentage of full-time workers 18 to 64 covered by health insurance during all or part of 2008.

Percentage of workers in private industry who receive a paid vacation as one of their employment benefits.

The Commute to Work
17.7 million
Number of commuters who leave for work between midnight and 5:59 a.m. They represent 13 percent of all commuters.


Percentage of workers who drive alone to work. Another 11 percent carpool and 5 percent take public transportation (excluding taxicabs).

25.5 minutes
The average time it takes people in the nation to commute to work. New York and Maryland had the most time-consuming commutes, averaging 31.6 and 31.5 minutes. (They are not significantly different from one another.)

3.5 million
Number of workers who face extreme commutes to work of 90 or more minutes each day.

Our Jobs
Americans work in a variety of occupations. Here is a sampling:

Teachers 7.2 million
Chief executives 1.7 million
Janitors and building cleaners 2.1 million
Computer software engineers 1.0 million
Aerospace engineers 137,000
Electricians 874,000
Registered nurses 2.8 million
Social workers 729,000
Clergy 441,000
Hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists 773,000
Chefs and head cooks 351,000
Customer service representatives 1.9 million
Taxi drivers and chauffeurs 373,000
Firefighters 293,000
Roofers 234,000
Pharmacists 243,000
Machinists 409,000
Musicians, singers and related workers 186,000
Artists and related workers 213,000
Gaming services workers (gambling) 111,000
Tax preparers 105,000
Service station attendants 87,000
Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers and weighers 751,000
Farmers and ranchers 751,000

7.6 million
Number of workers who hold down more than one job. So-called moonlighters comprise 5 percent of the working population. Of these, 4 million work full time at their primary job and part time at their other job.

Number of moonlighters who work full time at two jobs.

10.1 million
Number of self-employed workers.

26.4 million
Number of female workers 16 and older in management, professional and related occupations. Among male workers 6 and older, 24.7 million were employed in management, professional and related occupations.

Percentage of workers 16 and older who work more than 40 hours a week. About 7 percent work 60 or more hours a week.

Median number of years workers have been with their current employer. About 10 percent of those employed have been with their current employer for 20 or more years.

10.3 million
Number of independent contractors.

16.1 million
Number of labor union members nationwide. About 12 percent of wage and salary workers belong to unions, with Alaska, Hawaii and New York having among the highest rates of any state. North Carolina has one of the lowest rates, 3 percent.

Percentage decline in employment in the United States, between September 2008 and September 2009. Employment declined in 329 of the 334 largest counties (large counties are defined as having employment levels of 75,000 or more).

Percentage decline in Elkhart County, Ind., between September 2008 and September 2009, the largest decline in employment among the 334 largest counties. Los Angles County saw the largest numerical loss over the period: 278,000.

Percentage increase in employment in Yakima County, Wash., between September 2008 and September 2009, the largest percentage increase among the nation’s 334 largest counties.

5.9 million
The number of people who work at home.

$46,367 and $35,745
The 2008 real median earnings for male and female full-time, year-round workers, respectively.

Hot Jobs
Projected percentage growth from 2006 to 2016 in the number of network systems and data communication analysts. Forecasters expect this occupation to grow at a faster rate than any other. Meanwhile, the occupation expected to add more positions over this period than any other is registered nurses (587,000).


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By Valerie Strauss  | September 6, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Civics Education, History  | Tags:  history of labor, labor day, labor day facts  
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Next: Willingham: How to guarantee active learning? (Or, manipulatives vs. PowerPoint)


celebrate Foreign Labor Day ( GOP version ) let's all honor the companies that now manufacture everything overseas, or employ illegal aliens ... They've given us all much more than 1 day off

Posted by: sherloxhome | September 6, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Workers were killed for this day.

The truth, not the fiction, is that Labor Day is about the day that the police and military butchered workers in an attempt to squeeze a tinier bit of work out of them:

"The first Labor Day in the United States was observed on September 5, 1882 in New York City, by the Central Labor Union of New York, the nation's first integrated major trade union.[1] It became a federal holiday in 1894, when, following the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland put reconciliation with the labor movement as a top political priority. Fearing further conflict, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law a mere six days after the end of the strike.[2]"

That is the truth, the State was FORCED to acknowledge Labor Day out of fear. This is what kids need to know.

This article is so misleading and white washed. Labor day is not about celebrating the crack of a whip or putting down kids with threats of slavery.

Also kids today are still used as slave labor, over seas and at home, and the school system is often abusive to them.

Labor is about how WE BEAT THEM, not lectures about "How great and happy we should be to work for our exploiters!"

Posted by: Trotskyist100 | September 6, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

"Today, though, few schools teach in depth about the labor movement and I doubt many kids know what the holiday is intended to honor."

They don't know and will not know because the political and corporate elite do not want them to know. The Civil War did not end the exploitation of human beings for profit. It did not end government assistance in that exploitation. The 8-hour word day, the 5-day work week, overtime, safe working conditions, child labor laws and more were all bought with the blood of American heroes who stood up to the corporations, the police and the hired thugs. But they don't show up in the history books. They've been purged from the record just as Stalin purged Trotsky. It's still going on, just Eugene Robinson's column to see how the GOP is trying to re-write political history that many of us can still remember.

Posted by: mcstowy | September 7, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

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