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Posted at 09:14 AM ET, 09/05/2011

Labor Day: Why we celebrate

If your kids are complaining about going back to school, Labor Day is the perfect time to explain just how much worse things could be for them — and, in fact, were.

Once 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 activitists 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 many kids — and adults as well — have no idea what the holiday is intended to honor.

Labor Day is believed to have been first observed on Sept. 5, 1882, with a parade of 10,000 workers in New York City, which was organized by Peter J. McGuire, a Carpenters and Joiners Union secretary, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A dozen years later, more than half the states were observing a “labor” holiday and in 1894, Congress formally established a federal labor holiday, and it was designated as the first Monday in September.

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 kindly assembled by the U.S. Census Bureau and other government agencies.

Here are some facts and figures about Labor Day, with the latest available statistics:

WHO ARE WE CELEBRATING?

153.2 million

Number of people 16 and older in the nation’s labor force in July 2011.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

EMPLOYEE BENEFITS

84.7%

Percentage of full-time workers 18 to 64 covered by health insurance during all or part of 2009.

Source: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009

OUR JOBS

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

Occupation and Number of employees

Teachers (preschool - grade 12) 3,039,523

Computer Operators 101,889

Actors 10,980

Telephone Operators 32,394

Bus Drivers 265,429

Bakers 117,405

Telemarketers 55,733

Hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists 395,503

Janitors and building cleaners 1,478,204

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2009 American Community Survey, Table B24124

26.2 million

Number of female workers 16 and older in management, professional and related occupations. Among male workers, 16 and older, 24.0 million were employed in management, professional and related occupations.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2009 American Community Survey, Table C24010

0.9%

Percentage change in employment in the United States between December 2009 and December 2010. Employment increased in 220 of the 326 largest counties (large counties are defined as having employment levels of 75,000 or more).

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

5.2%

Percentage change in Elkhart County, Ind., between December 2009 and December 2010, the largest increase in employment among the 326 largest counties. New York County had the highest level increase of 37,500 jobs.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,

-4.0%

Percentage decline in employment in Manatee, Fla., between December 2009 and December 2010, the largest percentage decrease among the nation’s 326 largest counties.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

WORKING AT HOME

5.9 million

The number of people who work from home.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2009 American Community Survey, Table B08128

8%

Percent of total U.S. workforce that were home-based workers in 2005, an increase from 7 percent in 1999.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2005 Survey of Income and Program Participation

8.1 million

Number who worked from home exclusively in 2005, an increase from 6.7 million in 1999.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2005 Survey of Income and Program Participation

11+ hours

About 11 percent of those who worked at home for some or all of their workweek reported working 11 or more hours in a typical day in 2005. Only about 7 percent of workers who worked outside the home reported doing so.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2005 Survey of Income and Program Participation

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER DOLLAR

$47,127 and $36,278

The 2009 real median earnings for male and female full-time, year-round workers, respectively.

Source: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009

$1,943

Average weekly wage in Santa Clara, Calif., for the fourth quarter of 2010, the highest among the nation’s 326 largest counties.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

HOT JOBS

53%

Projected percentage growth from 2008 to 2018 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 (581,500).

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

EARLY, LONELY AND LONG — THE COMMUTE TO WORK

16.5 million

Number of commuters who leave for work between midnight and 5:59 a.m. They represent 12.4 percent of all commuters.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2009 American Community Survey, Table B08132

76.1%

Percentage of workers who drive alone to work. Another 10.0 percent carpool and 5.0 percent take public transportation (excluding taxicabs).

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2009 American Community Survey Data Profiles, Selected Economic Characteristics

25.1 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 31.4 and 31.3 minutes. (They are not significantly different from each another.)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2009 American Community Survey, Table R0801

3.2 million

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

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2009 American Community Survey, Table B08012

*The preceding data were collected from a variety of sources and may be subject to sampling variability and other sources of error. Facts for Features are customarily released about two months before an observance in order to accommodate magazine production timelines. Questions or comments should be directed to the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office: telephone: 301-763-3030; fax: 301-763-3762; or e-mail: <PIO@census.gov>.

By  |  09:14 AM ET, 09/05/2011

 
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