Labor Day: Past and Present

For over a century, the first Monday of every September has been set aside to honor the American workforce. Let’s use today to recognize the achievements that our country has made for a safer, fairer workforce for all.

Holidays celebrating the American workforce have been going on since 1882, but it didn’t become an official holiday recognized by Congress until June 28, 1894. Labor Day was created to celebrate “the social and economic achievements of American workers.” In the past, there were parades and speeches from union leaders. Today, Labor Day is a paid holiday for many workers and a time of last-minute vacations.

Labor Day Facts

Want to learn more about how far the U.S. labor force has come? Check out the bullet points listed below.

  • Increase in American workers. The number of American workers has greatly increased in a hundred years. In the year 1900, about 24 million Americans over the age of 10 worked in the workforce. Today there are over 150 million American workers.
  • Decrease in hours worked. We’ve come a long way in term of work hours during the week, but the trend of overworked Americans doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. In 1900, manufacturers made up a large part of the American workforce and they worked 53 hours a week. Today, 50 percent of American workers work an average of 47 hours per week.
  • More degreed workers. More and more people are getting degrees to compete in the American workforce. In 1910, less than three percent of the population had a degree “from a school of higher learning.” Today, according to the U.S. census, over 40 percent of the population has an Associate’s degree or more.
  • More working women. The number of women in the American workforce has increased in the past century. In 1920, the labor force participation rate for people ages 14 and older was 23 percent for women workers. Today, the “average civilian labor force participation rate for people ages 16 and older” is 57 percent for women workers. This means that the percentage of women in the workplace has more than doubled in 100 years.
  • Unemployment changes. When the housing market went bust the unemployment rate skyrocketed. Since the start of the Great Recession, the unemployment rate has slowly lowered. As of today, the U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that the unemployment rate is 4 percent. In 1900, the unemployment rate was five percent, so things have evened out.

Bonus. As a result today, many organizations are working to improve the U.S. labor force. Because of this there are organizations that are bolstering American unions, working for equal pay for women, trying to end sexual harassment in the workplace, and striving to increase the minimum wage. Today, check to see if there are any labor movements working in your local area.