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The facts and figures that add up to Labor Day

August 23, 2016
American workers

Americans are a hardworking lot. Consider that researchers found that only South Koreans work more hours than Americans. Meanwhile, the Economic Policy Institute reported last year that productivity rose by 72.2 percent between 1973 and 2014. And the U.S. economy continues to be an economic powerhouse, even in these times of economic displacement and slowing worldwide growth.

It is that kind of effort we celebrate the first Monday of every September, otherwise known as Labor Day, a national holiday that is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.

We hope you all have some travel or recreational plans for the holiday. One of the unfortunate side effects of the Americans hard work and long hours is declining summer vacation time. Some 56 percent of American workers took weeklong vacations during summer 2014 (the most recent year we have statistics for), which was a new low-point in a steady decline that began in early 1980s, when more than 80 percent took weeklong vacations.

While that is not a happy trend, there are other more positive trends, such as rising wages and a great deal of attention being paid to working people by presidential candidates, current and those who were eliminated earlier in the campaign.

Labor Day was first celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882 in New York City. A parade of about 10,000 workers took unpaid leave and marched from City Hall past Union Square and ending at Elm Park for a concert, speeches, and a picnic.

Oregon was the first state to make Labor Day a holiday. That was in 1887. On June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday of September an annual holiday.

As hard as we work today, in the late 1800s the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks to eke out a basic living. Labor laws, improved technologies and higher productivity have tremendously reduced the number of hours required to power the U.S. economy to the world’s biggest and strongest. The eight-hour workweek was established in 1916 with passage of the Adamson Act, the first federal law regulating hours of workers in private companies.

And, yes, Labor Day is widely regarded as the unofficial final day of the vacation season. We don’t consider vacation time to be a season. We think any time is a good time for a vacation, and we hope the decline in the average American’s vacation time reverses itself. After all, we work too hard not to reward ourselves for all that effort and accomplishment.

That is what Labor Day is all about.

Written by Mike Consol

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