Labor Day in the USA

Labor Day is a national holiday in the USA, which is observed every year on the first Monday in September to pay tribute to American workers. Find out how this popular US holiday came about and how it is celebrated by Americans today!

Origin of Labor Day: Working conditions in the USA

Labor Day in the USA was created in honor of the workmen and their achievements during a very dark period of American labor history. In the late 1800s, when the industrial revolution peaked in the USA, the average American worked a full 12 hours a day, 7 days a week!

Even children around the age of 6 worked in mills, factories and mines, but received only a fraction of the wages of their adult counterparts. People regardless of age, especially the very poor and new US immigrants, were often confronted with highly unsafe working environments as they did not have enough fresh air, sanitation or breaks.

When the manufacturing industry began to displace agriculture as the base of American employment, previously established labor unions became more and more active. They started to organize strikes and demonstrations to protest against poor work conditions and forced employers to redetermine wages and working hours.

The first Labor Day celebration

On September 5, 1882, 10,000 Central Labor Union workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City. They could only have guessed that they were writing history: This protest action is hailed as the first Labor Day parade in the USA. The concept of a "workingmen’s holiday", which was celebrated on the first Monday of September, began to spread to other industrial centers in the country.

As a result, after 1886, many US states passed laws that recognized the holiday in honor of the workers. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted it. On June 28, 1894, US President Grover Cleveland finally signed a law that made the first Monday of September of each year a public holiday.

Traditions on Labor Day

These days, for many Americans, Labor Day is a day of rest or the last chance to make a short trip over the long weekend before summer ends. For students it marks the end of the summer break and is thus the last opportunity to organize a big party before the start of school.

In some cities and communities, Labor Day is still celebrated with parades, picnics, barbecues, fireworks and other public events. The American football season also begins around Labor Day and many teams have their first match of the season on Labor Day weekend.

Interesting facts about Labor Day

  • President Grover Cleveland and the US Congress made Labor Day a public holiday in 1894. By that time, 23 states already had their own celebrations.
  • Oregon was the first state to make Labor Day a public holiday in 1887.
  • New York has the highest union membership rate with 24.7 percent; South Carolina has the lowest with 2.1 percent.
  • The US has no statutory minimum paid vacation or paid holidays. It is up to employers to decide whether to offer such benefits.
  • Approximately 75 percent of Americans plan to continue working after the age of 65.
  • In US sports, Labor Day marks the start of the NFL and college football seasons.
  • A fashion tradition is not to wear white after Labor Day, as it is usually worn in the summer to keep cool. Labor Day however marks the end of summer.
  • Labor Day ranks 2nd after Black Friday in terms of retail sales. Paradoxically, this means that more than 24 percent of all retail workers have to work harder and longer on Labor Day.