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Happy Labor Day, in eight charts!

Today is Labor Day, an occasion often marked by beach trips and barbecues. While that's all well and good, we here at Wonkblog would be remiss if we let the long weekend go by without a few good charts that show what it means to be a worker in America today and how that has changed over the years.

Labor force participation is way higher today than it was in the 1940s -- but significantly lower than a decade ago. 

This chart comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which began keeping track of how many Americans older than 16 participate in the labor force in 1948. There was a big climb through the '60s and '70s, as women began to increasingly work outside the house.

The biggest group outside the labor force are the retired.

If you've ever wondered who, exactly, are the 37 percent of Americans outside the labor force, wonder no more! Bloomberg Businessweek put together this graphic showing who works, who doesn't and why.

Back in 1940, the biggest workforce sector was manufacturing. Now it's education and health care. 

This piece from Ezra Klein offers a great explanation of why health care and education have become increasingly dominant sectors in the American workforce.

Over the past four decades, the government and financial service sectors have become increasingly female. Others, like manufacturing, barely budged.

Last year NPR's Planet Money took a long look at how women's entry into the workforce changed the composition of different sectors. Some, such as financial activities and hospitality, became increasingly female. Others, particularly manufacturing, have hardly changed in four decades.

Foreign-born Americans are increasingly overrepresented in the workforce.

(Source: Migration Policy Institute)

About one in five workers describe themselves as "actively disengaged" in their jobs.

This is from a regular Gallup survey and instantly brings to mind a quote from one Peter Gibbons: "It's not that I'm lazy; it's just that I don't care." Baby boomers, per Gallup, are the least engaged demographic at work.


Professionals are seeing their workweeks get longer. Lower-income Americans aren't. 

(Mother Jones)

The 50-hour week has become increasingly common since the 1970s. This is especially true among high-earning men and women, but less common in lower-income demographics.

Even if some Americans are working longer, wages as a percent of the overall economy are at an all-time low. 

Tim Fernholz, in a post aptly titled "Two charts to ruin Labor Day," shows Bureau of Economic Analysis data on wages as a percent of gross domestic product. Things do not, in short, look good.

"Blame robots and offshoring, but also the mysterious fact, attributed to everything from de-unionization to tax policy to a lack of investment of education, that gains in productivity haven’t translated into higher wages," Fernholz writes.



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Dylan Matthews · September 2, 2013

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