Labor Day, which is celebrated on the first Monday of September, falls on September 5 this year. While many people know it simply as the reason for a three-day weekend or the unofficial end to summer, the holiday is actually meant to symbolize and pay tribute to American workers, giving many a much-needed day off.
The holiday was created by the labor movement, which fought to regulate American work schedules and other worker rights, in the late 19th century during the Industrial Revolution in the U.S.
The national holiday has quite the decorated history from its origins to now, when millions use it as an opportunity to travel, party, and shop for holiday deals. Here are some fascinating statistics and fun facts about the holiday’s past and present.
- The first Labor Day “parade” involved 10,000 striking workers in New York City.
- The 8-hour workday didn’t become federal law in the U.S. until 1940.
- About 158.1 million Americans were working in some capacity in June 2022, up from 151.6 million at the same time last year.
- More than half (53%) of Americans surveyed said they planned to travel over Labor Day Weekend last year.
- Americans eat 818 hot dogs per second between the Memorial Day and Labor Day holiday weekends, and Los Angeles consumes more hot dogs than any other city.
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It’s been a federal holiday for more than a century
The concept of Labor Day was put forth by the labor movements all across the U.S. in the 19th century. Workers banded together to demand changes in the workplace, as the Industrial Revolution led to long hours, unsafe working conditions, and little time off for American employees.
Labor unions began organizing rallies and strikes to protest these poor working conditions and demand fewer hours and better pay.
In the wake of all this unrest, Labor Day — meant to honor the achievements of America’s working public — was made a legal holiday in June 1894 by then President Grover Cleveland. Canada also celebrates Labor Day on the same day.
Today, the holiday is celebrated all across the country with parades, picnics, barbeques, and fireworks displays, and symbolizes an end to summer for students as many head back to school in the beginning of September.
We’re not sure who came up with the concept of Labor Day
Even though it has been recognized for more than a century, it’s still unclear who exactly came up with the concept of the worker’s holiday, as these labor unions were banding together all over the U.S. for decades beforehand.
Some credit Matthew Maguire, a secretary of the Central Labor Union, while others credit Peter J. McGuire, the co-founder of the American Federation of Labor.
The first Labor Day parade involved 10,000 striking workers
The first “Labor Day parade” in the U.S. was a protest march — one that went on to inspire an annual tradition. On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers in New York City left their jobs and marched from City Hall to Union Square, in what would become known as the first Labor Day parade ever held.
Afterward, the idea of devoting a holiday to American workers on the first Monday in September caught on in many other major cities across the country. Many states passed legislation recognizing Labor Day before it was made into a federal holiday in 1894.
There were also several other major protest events credited with changing the tide for worker rights, including the striking employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago in 1894. Employees were protesting wage cuts and the firing of union representatives and eventually, there was a call from the American Railroad Union to boycott Pullman cars altogether. The strike led to government intervention, deadly riots, and, eventually, a national spotlight on the rights of laborers.
The 40-hour workweek didn’t become law until 1940
Today, we know the 40-hour workweek and 8-hour workday as standard, though people in some professions do report working much more than this. However, that standard didn’t come to fruition until 1940, despite the fact that labor unions asked Congress to pass laws limiting workday hours nearly a century earlier.
In 1938, as pressure was mounting on Washington, Congress passed a Fair Labor Standards Act that limited the workweek to 44 hours, or 8.8 hours per day. That was later amended to 40 hours in 1940. However, this move was first requested all the way back in 1866, when the National Labor Union asked Congress to make the 8-hour workday law.
In the 1800s, many Americans worked 12-hour days
In the 19th century, the workers of America had good reason to protest. Many were working six, or even seven, days per week and they’d often be working 12-hour days. Some reports say these employees worked up to 14 hours per day.
Before federal laws were put into place, children as young as five and six could also be found working in mills, factories, and mines across the country. Just to make ends meet, these employees — who were often very poor and had recently immigrated to the U.S. — faced incredibly unsafe working conditions that didn’t provide access to clean air or breaks throughout the day.
(Source: History.com, Chicago History Museum)
Oregon was the first state to recognize Labor Day in 1887
New York was the first state to introduce a bill recognizing Labor Day, however, Oregon was the first to officially pass a law creating the holiday in the state in February 1887. Later in 1887, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York all passed laws to make it a holiday as well.
By the end of the 1880s, Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had also passed laws to make Labor Day a holiday. Twenty-three other states followed suit before Congress made it a federal holiday in 1894.
(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)
Other parts of the world celebrate on May 1
Other countries celebrate International Workers’ Day or Labor Day on May 1. May 1 was chosen because it was the anniversary of the Haymarket Affair in Chicago, which was a violent confrontation between labor protestors and the police.
May 1 coincides with May Day, a European holiday celebrating the return of spring.
53% of Americans planned to travel for Labor Day in 2022
As Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer, many try to get one more trip in over the long weekend. This year is no exception.
This year’s survey by The Vacationer found that 53% of Americans plan to travel at some point over Labor Day Weekend. Among those traveling, most (36%) said they would be traveling by car. About 14% of respondents said they would travel by plane, and 3% planned to use public transportation.
About half of the survey respondents said that high gas prices would not affect their Labor Day travel plans.
(Source: The Vacationer)
Nearly 55% of people said they’d be attending a BBQ or cookout
In The Vacationer’s 2021 Labor Day survey, 54.6% of respondents said they’d be attending a barbecue or cookout for the holiday — the most popular response by a longshot.
Some other popular responses were going to the beach (26% of respondents) or going to see fireworks (23.3%). Some of the less popular activities on the list were attending a sporting event (6.65% of respondents), going to the movies (10.33%), and attending some sort of parade (12.43%).
(Source: The Vacationer)
64% of consumers said they hoped to hit sales for back-to-school shopping
Another thing Labor Day is known for is great sales from a large variety of retailers — both online and at brick-and-mortar stores. Consumers can score deals on summer goods that are going out of season as well as back-to-school items.
A National Retail Federation survey for 2022 found that the percentage of shoppers hoping to score deals on back-to-school goods jumped this year to 64%, from 61% last year. The jump could have something to do with consumers trying to figure out how to save money amid inflation.
(Source: National Retail Federation)
528,000 jobs were added in the U.S. in July
When it comes to the current workforce in the U.S., there was some promising news this summer. Employers added 528,000 jobs to the market in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate was also down to 3.5%, a sign that the economy is in recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic turned it on its head two years ago.
The unemployment rate has now dropped back down to the level it was at before the pandemic, in February 2020, and the bureau estimates that about 5.7 million Americans are currently unemployed.
The labor force participation rate was 62.1% in July. This rate is the percentage of the civilian population ages 16 and older that are working or actively looking for work. The participation rate is slightly lower than it was before the pandemic.
(Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Washington Post)
The average American full-time employee works 8.5 hours a day
According to estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American full-time employee works about 8.53 hours per day. The numbers vary a bit depending on how much education a person has and if they work more than one job.
Those with just one job work about 8.07 hours per day on average and those who work multiple jobs work about 8.40 hours, according to the bureau. By contrast, those who are employed in a part-time capacity work about 5.62 hours per day.
(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)
57% of Americans left vacation days unused in 2020
According to a survey from WalletHub, more than half of Americans (57%) left vacation days unused in 2020. While it’s entirely possible that some of that unused time off was due to the pandemic and the fact that the travel industry came to a screeching halt in March 2020, Americans left plenty of paid time off on the table in 2021 as well when COVID-19 vaccines were widely available and travel restrictions were loosening up.
On average, Americans left about 4.6 days of paid time off unused in 2021. Those numbers will, hopefully, drop a bit this year, as the U.S. Travel Association predicted that Americans will spend 3.5% more on travel in 2022.
(Sources: WalletHub, Fortune)
In 2021, 57% of Americans had also gone more than a year without a vacation
At the time of WalletHub’s 2021 survey, 57% of Americans had also said that it had been more than a year since their last vacation of any sort — and not all time off is being used for relaxing or leisurely activities.
This comes despite the fact that research has found that the large majority (79%) of full-time employees in the country believe that taking time off is important for job satisfaction and overall health and well-being.
(Source: WalletHub, Fortune)
About 158.1 million Americans are employed
About 158.2 million Americans were employed in some capacity in July 2022, according to estimates from Statista — that’s quite the workforce. The number of employed citizens is also up quite a bit from July 2021, when the outlet found that about 152.7 million people in the country were working.
The outlet considers someone employed if they did any work for pay or profit during the survey reference week or did at least 15 hours of unpaid work in a family-operated business. The list also included people who were temporarily absent from their normal work because of illness, vacation, personal reasons, or other reasons.
Full-time employees are making $1,041 per week on average
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ analysis of the second quarter of 2022, the average full-time wage or salary worker in the U.S. was making $1,041 per week. This is 5.2% higher than one year prior.
However, the weekly earnings vary quite a bit depending on education level, race, sex, and what industry employees work in (with management, professional, and related occupations making the most).
On average, men were making about $1,144 per week while women were making $943 (or 82.4% of their male counterparts' average wage).
(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)
818 hot dogs are eaten per second between Memorial Day and Labor Day
To conclude our Labor Day stats on a tasty note, WalletHub’s 2021 survey found that about 818 hot dogs were consumed per second in the unofficial summer season — between Memorial Day and Labor Day. That’s a whole lot of summer BBQing.
Americans reportedly spent a whopping $7.5 billion on hot dogs and sausages in supermarkets during 2021.
And if you’re wondering which U.S. city consumes the most hot dogs, Los Angeles takes the number 1 spot, beating out other major contenders like New York and Chicago. LA residents consume about 30 million pounds of hot dogs per year.
(Source: WalletHub, National Hot Dog and Sausage Council)
How to relax this Labor Day
If you’re currently thinking up new and creative ways for how to manage your money, taking advantage of Labor Day sales could be a huge help.
If you’ve been putting off buying some needed items or have students at home and haven’t yet done back-to-school shopping, keep an eye out for ads from your local department stores as well as major online retailers. You just may be able to get all those necessities purchased over the weekend.
Consider some off-the-grid relaxing
Since many consider Labor Day the end to the summer season, typical summer getaways, such as beaches and lakes, are likely going to be packed. If relaxation is what you’re after, it may be better to consider a more off-the-grid weekend away. That may mean looking into more out-of-the-way camping spots or maybe even taking a bit of a “staycation” and indulging in some “me time” at home.
Consider bringing the BBQ to you
Americans love grilling season (clearly, if you look at the sheer amount of hot dogs the country consumes every year). But putting together a menu for you and your loved ones may feel like an unnecessary hassle at the end of a long, hot summer.
Your local eateries may be offering great Labor Day deals as well, so check out which are offering coupons in your area and consider ordering in. Food delivery apps like GrubHub and Postmates may have some insight on which restaurants have the best deals going in your area as well.
Labor Day was created as a big thank you to the employees who work tirelessly to keep the country running day in and day out — but unfortunately, not all Americans get the three-day weekend.
So, whatever your plans are this Labor Day weekend — whether you’re planning a big end-of-the-season beach getaway, attending a parade and fireworks show, or simply planning to spend a quiet day off at home, make sure you say thank you to those who do have to go into work. It’s one small way to keep the original spirit of the working American’s holiday alive.
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