Americans remain workers, but doing different work

Much has changed in the 124 years since the first Labor Day in the United States, but statistics show that one thing hasn't: Americans are workers.
There are more than 151 million Americans 16 and older are in the work force, according to the Census Bureau. About 112 million of those are in occupations that provide a service, which is a shift from the golden age of industrialization, when a higher percentage produced durable goods.
The median household income for Americans is $44,389 and the median weekly wage, $568. One in four works more than 40 hours a week; one in 12 works more than 60. A small percentage, about 250,000 people, hold two full-time jobs. As we said, Americans are workers.
There are less than a million Americans who identify themselves as full-time ranchers and farmers., about 827,000. That is only marginally larger than the 738,000 who work as hairdressers and cosmetologists.
Changing faces
As a holiday, this day has its roots in the early labor movement. Today only about 13 percent of wage and salary workers belong to unions. New York has among the highest rates of any state at 25 percent. Michigan, once home to the Big Three auto makers and hundreds of thousands of unionized auto workers, has dropped to 20 percent. North Carolina has one of the lowest rates at 3 percent.
In other ways, Americans remain a traditional work force. Only 8 percent work night or overnight shifts. And the great majority -- 77 percent -- drive to work alone.
And while many Americans worry about losing their jobs to underpaid, overworked competitors in Mexico or Asia, to workers in most of the industrialized world, Americans are overworked, putting in more hours per year than any of their peers. The Center for Economic and Policy Research says the average American gets 23 days a year in vacation and holidays, half of what an Italian worker takes in time off. Even the industrious Japanese get 31.
The world of work, of course, is becoming a much more complicated and competitive place. There's a lot of disagreement over how good or how bad the American worker has it, as the two columns on this page illustrate.
But it is a given that Americans work. Millions put in long hours in factories, offices and stores. Public employees protect and serve. The media entertain and inform. Educators prepare the next generation for tomorrow. Health care workers comfort us and make us better. Transportation workers get us and the goods were need from place to place.
All contribute to making America what it is, and all have earned the respect that this day, Labor Day, was established in 1882 to provide.

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