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Labor Day history worth reading, thinking about

The Augusta Chronicle

For most Americans, Labor Day is hardly a time of rest.

Although many people will take the day off from their jobs, they will be confronted with dozens of chores to do around the house. And then there are the advertised Labor Day sales that avid shoppers can’t resist. Some people will take a road trip on a long holiday weekend getaway.

But as people enjoy the day, they also should take stock in Labor Day’s origin and other data that the U.S. Census Bureau provides to give Americans a deeper understanding of the holiday, marking the close of summer.

Labor Day was thought to have first been observed on Sept. 5, 1882, when about 10,000 workers gathered in New York for a parade. That resulted in similar events nationwide.

By 1894, more than half the states were celebrating a “working men’s holiday” on various days. That year, Congress got in the act, passing a bill that President Grover Cleveland signed June 29, designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day.

The national holiday grew out of the labor movement in the late 19th century in which people protested, went to jail and some were injured or killed so that we could have many of the job benefits we do today. It was also a time of the nation’s economy shifting from being agrarian based to the industrialism of cities, particularly in the North, Midwest and on the Coasts. Many Americans were migrating in great numbers from farms, where they couldn’t make a living, to factory jobs in cities.

By May 2016, 158.5 million people age 16 and older were in the nation’s labor force. But only 16.4 million salary workers in that age group were represented by a union in 2015. Of that number, 14.8 million were workers who reported no union affiliation, but those jobs were covered by a union contract. New York continued to have the highest union membership rate at 24.7 percent compared with South Carolina’s 2.1 percent as the lowest.

Nearly 90 percent of full-time, year-round workers ages 18 to 64 were covered by health insurance in 2014.

In the U.S. there are 15.2 million employed female workers ages 16 and over in service occupations; 11.8 million male workers in that age group were in service jobs.

As a sign of the economy continuing to recover from the Great Recession, employment ticked up 1.9 percent from December 2014 to December 2015. The census reports that 342 counties saw a net job growth of 2.2 million over the year, which accounted for 81.4 percent of the overall U.S. employment increase.

The Labor Department on Friday reported slower than expected job growth with non-farm payroll employment increasing 151,000 in August. It was expected to be closer to 200,000. But the unemployment rate remained at 4.9 percent, the same as in July.

It isn’t what the Federal Reserve had hoped for to bolster another increase in interest rates, signaling more improvements in the U.S. economy.

The census also tells us that in 2014, the real median earnings for full-time, year-round workers was $50,383 for men and $39,621 for women. Can you say pay disparity?

The real median household income for 2014 was $53,657 — down from $54,462 in 2013. That’s a Labor Day bummer.

People work all hours — 6.3 million folks commuted to jobs from midnight to 4:59 a.m. in 2014. That’s about 4.5 percent of all commuters. The bulk of job commuters — 20.6 million folks — were on the road to work between 7 a.m. and 7:29 a.m. Can you say rush hour, traffic jams and road rage?

Most people — 76.5 percent — in 2015 drove to work alone. The census reports that 9.2 percent of people carpooled and 0.6 percent biked to work.

The average commute time to work was 26 minutes. The worst were in New York at 32.6 minutes and Maryland at 32.3 minutes.

Lewis Diuguid is a columnist for the Kansas City Star. Readers may email him at ldiuguid@kcstar.com.

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