With Labor Day coming up, employers may be thinking about more than just how to celebrate the last holiday of summer. It’s also a time to look at the status of the American workforce, where it’s been and where it’s going.
The U.S. Census Bureau notes the first observation of Labor Day took place on September 5, 1882, when 10,000 workers gathered for a parade in New York City.
Soon similar events were being held elsewhere, and by 1894 more than half the states marked a “workingmen’s holiday” at some point during the year. A single national holiday was instituted when President Grover Cleveland signed a bill on June 29, 1894, designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day.
Here are a few facts to ponder while packing a holiday picnic basket.
- The U.S. workforce numbers 155.7 million people. That’s the number of people 16 and older in the nation’s labor force as of May 2013, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
- The list of the 10 largest occupations in May 2012 differs significantly from the top 10 from 1910 and shows how a century has changed the kind of work we do.
The BLS reports that the top 10 occupations in 2012 were: retail salespeople (with 4,340,000 employees); cashiers (3,314,010); combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food (2,943,810); office clerks, general (2,808,100); registered nurses (2,633,980); waiters and waitresses (2,332,020); customer service representatives (2,299,750); laborers and freight, stock and material movers, hand (2,143,940); janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners (2,097,380); secretaries and administrative assistants, except legal, medical, and executive (2,085,680).
The 1910 list of largest occupations comes from a Census Bureau statistical abstract and isn’t comparable to the BLS modern statistics, but it shows how occupations have changed over the years. The largest group of workers identified in the abstract was farmers, owners, and tenants (6,132,000). That group was followed by farm laborers, wageworkers (2,832,000); farm laborers, unpaid family workers (2,514,000); operatives and kindred workers, manufacturing (2,318,000); laborers, nonmanufacturing industries (2,210,000); laborers, manufacturing (1,487,000); salesmen and sales clerks, retail trade (1,454,000); housekeepers, private household – living out (1,338,000); managers, officials and proprietors, retail trade (1,119,000); mine operatives and laborers, crude petroleum and natural gas extraction (907,000).
- The 2011 real median earnings for male and female full-time, year-round workers was $48,202 and $37,118, respectively, according to the Census Bureau.
- The number of personal care aides is expected to grow by 70 percent between 2010 and 2020, faster growth than the average for all occupations, according the BLS.
- The percentage of full-time workers age 18-64 covered by health insurance during all or part of 2011 was 84.7 percent, according to the Census Bureau.
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that the percentage of workers who are members of a union has slipped from 20.1 percent (17.7 million workers) in 1983 to 11.3 percent (14.4 million workers) in 2012.
- The percentage of workers 16 and over who worked from home in 2011 was 4.3 percent, according to the Census Bureau.
- The Census Bureau reports that 76.4 percent of workers 16 and over drove to work alone in 2011. Another 9.7 percent carpooled, and 2.8 percent walked from home.
The average time it took workers to commute to work in 2011 was 25.5 minutes, according to the Census Bureau. Maryland and New York had the longest commutes averaging 32.2 and 31.5 minutes, respectively.
Tammy Binford writes and edits news alerts and newsletter articles on labor and employment law topics for BLR Web and print publications. In addition, she writes for HR Hero Line and Diversity Insight, two of the ezines and blogs found on HRHero.com.