Labor Day is an occasion to honor the achievements of working people. For many Americans it is also the last long weekend off before the end of summer. It’s a day to spend time with family and loved ones and an opportunity to gather before the new school year starts. But for too many of us, it is a reminder of how we are increasingly working more and harder for less.
This year, the AFL-CIO looked deeply into our work-life balance, a primary concern of America’s labor unions. We commissioned a national survey to examine whether working people have the freedom to enjoy paid holidays and time off. We wanted to know whether those benefits are negatively impacted by a culture that encourages us to work longer hours and to take work home on the weekend. We found a nation overcome by work, a truth felt most deeply by low-wage earners, who have hardly a moment to savor family, friends or relaxation.
Here’s what we knew even before the survey. According to the Economic Policy Institute, nearly a quarter of America’s private-sector workers—23%—have no paid time off for any holidays,1 including Labor Day, and 24% have no access to any paid vacation2 at all.
For those workers, a day home with children on a holiday must be balanced against a loss of pay. Lower-wage earners have less access to paid vacation. Among the bottom 10% of earners, 59% do not have access to paid holidays, while among the top 10% of earners, 7% do not have access to paid holidays3 and 8% do not have access to paid vacation.4