Labor Day – The Celebration of America’s Workers

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This weekend marks America’s 131st Labor Day, celebrated annually on the first Monday in September. Labor Day was first celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City. It was originally organized by labor unions as a testament to their causes and a show of strength against many labor-related government policies. Its intent was also to tout and applaud the contributions of union members to the growth of the US economy. It wasn’t until 1894, during the height of major labor unrest in the country, that President Grover Cleveland reluctantly signed legislation to make Labor Day a National Holiday. As is the case with most legislation, even today, political motives were behind it. 1894 was a mid-term election year, and President Cleveland thought this was a good way to appease big labor and hopefully pave the way for the re-election of Democratic congressional candidates, as well as his own re-election two years later. Unfortunately for him and the Democrats, history shows that did not go as envisioned.

Today, Labor Day in America has taken on a far more commercialized twist. In the ensuing years it has become a three-day weekend of celebrations. By most, it is considered the un-official end of the summer season and is usually marked by family gatherings, cook-outs in the back yard, and in most cases, a paid holiday from employers. It is also the last hurrah for students headed back to school.

While the original concept of a day honoring labor was union driven, today’s labor force has quite a different dynamic. It now includes both union and non-union workers, as well as management, business leaders and entrepreneurs who build companies and make workforces grow. It includes all levels of the income strata. Today’s electronically driven work force is mobile and reactive to the constraints and limitations imposed on them by virtue of their physical locations. Census data shows that millions of these American workers and visionaries have pulled up their stakes and moved to places that provided them and their families with a higher quality of life — places where businesses are not saddled with oppressive regulations that inhibit their growth, places where reasonable tax structures allow them to keep more of their incomes and attained net worth.

Back when the first Labor Day was celebrated, the northeast was the epicenter of American wealth. This is not the case today, as southern states move to the forefront of economic growth. IRS data shows that between the years 1992 and 2010, over $2 trillion of wealth actually migrated from one state to another. The largest recipient of this transfer of wealth was clearly the South. Zero personal income tax states like Florida, Texas, and Tennessee have captured the lion’s share of this transfer of adjusted gross incomes.

The availability of employment, tax structures, and unions have all played a profound role in the demographics of our US labor force. But Americans as a whole continue to make up the most hard working, energized and innovative workforce in the world, and for this alone, deserve the recognition and celebration that comes along with this Labor Day weekend.