Labor Day: America at work

  • National Archives

    1942 illustration by Charles Alston for the Office of War Information

    On Sept. 5, 1882, some 10,000 people gathered in upper Manhattan at Wendel's Elm Park for a parade dedicated to an idea much in the news at the time: the dignity of workers.

    So was born Labor Day, or at least its modern incarnation. Although Congress didn't designate the first Monday of September as an official holiday until 1894, the earlier march embodied the landmark social change underway in the U.S. at the time. The effects of that change, which would go on to transform politics and help give rise to the American middle class, continue to be felt to this day.

    It's easy to forget, in the rush to squeeze out one last summer outing or to prepare children for the new school year, what Labor Day is really about. To that end, here's a snapshot of what it means to work in America today.

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    Alain Sherter covers business and economic affairs for