Laboring on Labor Day

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

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