or as much as Americans value hard work, you’d think Labor Day would be a big deal. Instead, for those lucky enough to have the day off, it’s a time to catch your breath, throw some food on the grill and wallow in the first full weekend of college football.

Gains in the workplace that were often paid for in blood get virtually no attention.

Celebration of the achievements of hard-working Americans began in some cities as early as 1884.

A snapshot of the workplace at that time is far different from that of today.

Granted, the picture of today’s workplace is not perfect. Wages are lagging behind economic growth, too many Americans live from paycheck to paycheck, too many work more than one job and the specter of bankruptcy due to an illness hovers over our retirement dreams.

That said, things once were far worse, and they’re better because American workers demanded them to be.

Back in 1884 the idea of a weekend was a fantasy for many. After the Civil War the average workweek was 61 hours. It’s hard to have any kind of a family life working those hours, so laborers began agitating for a shorter workweek, which finally was made law by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1937.

Back in 1884 child labor was a common practice. In 1881 the American Federation of Labor called for a ban on children under the age of 14 in the workplace. The idea slowly gained steam, but as of 1900 about one-fifth of U.S. workers were under the age of 16. It took the Great Depression and the Fair Labor Act to finally end child labor. With so many people out of work in the 1930s, Americans wanted jobs to go to adults first.

The Fair Labor Act also set a minimum wage, a maximum workweek and time-and-a-half for overtime.

So yes, while there’s some backsliding on work conditions today – an increasing wealth gap, for instance – we’re light years ahead of where we came from.


So how do we stand in Jackson County come Labor Day 2019?

According to figures from the N.C. Dept. of Commerce, most people want a job have a job have one, with 19,593 of us gainfully employed as of June compared to 970 without jobs. The median household income is around $45,000, which is below the national and state averages but higher than most adjoining counties.

A little less than 4 percent of us work from home. Of the rest, about three-quarters have a job inside the county, about 21 percent outside the county. One and-a-half percent work outside the state. The average commute is solo and runs about 20 minutes. A shade over three and-a-half percent of us drive more than an hour to our job.

Around 3,000 of us work in education services. Food services and accommodations provide more than 2,500 jobs, the retail trade accounts for 1,800 and health care and social assistance another 1,800.

It’s a pretty diverse economy; there’s no large employer on the scale of a General Motors, but on the other hand the sectors here are stable and not subject to a plant closing. People will continue to eat, get an education and seek health care. Tourism will keep humming along so long as we take care of our environment.

But the most important thing about our labor force, now and in the past, is this:

It’s built a pretty darned good place to live, hasn’t it?

Whether you’re off or working on Labor Day, bear that in mind. It’s worthy of celebration.