published Monday, September 1st, 2014

Smith: Considering the value of your labor

By Robin Smith

It's Labor Day, a holiday created to honor and celebrate the work and efforts of the working class.

U.S. Sen. James Henderson Kyle, R-S.D., a teacher, a farmer and then a minister, introduced and carried the bill to create the Labor Day holiday.

The simple one-page bill making Labor Day a legal holiday was introduced on Aug. 28, 1893, and passed as law in 1894 to commemorate the hard working public responsible for the Industrial Revolution. Millions endured 12-hour days and seven-day work weeks. Children as young as 5 toiled in mills in dangerous working conditions.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the "real wage" of workers in 1893 was listed at "0.168 hourly" and "1.68 daily," a sum earned after at least a 10-hour work day.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor's 18th Annual Report, based on prices for each of the years from 1890 to 1903, inclusive, the average family living in Tennessee spent $625.42 annually while earning an average of $640.47 a year. Debt, was clearly, not considered normal.

Able-bodied individuals not working when the labor bureau's 1904 report was compiled were identified as "idle" in the report.

Further, the report identified reasons for "idleness." Drunkenness, accident, strike, unable to get work, slack work, and bad weather were among 64 identifiers that captured the reasons for unemployment.

Of heads of families surveyed during this 13-year window from the South Central States, a region that included Tennessee, just over nine weeks was the average time individuals were recorded as being without work. That's weeks, not months. Among the 199 Tennessee families surveyed during the survey period, 95 percent of husbands were earning income, 37 percent of wives, and 14 percent of children.

What was the annual income during the 1890-1903 time frame?

Husbands were earning $504.71 per year; wives $112.17; children $252.16.

Where did those dollars go?

In Tennessee, the surveyed sample spent an average of $273.32 on food per year, $68.26 on clothing, just under $220 on mortgage payments per year, with $164.83 spent in the "other" category for the average family of five.

Why all the numbers on this Labor Day?

The history of Labor Day has changed in America as working conditions have improved and as wages have increased with education and demand for certain skills. Meanwhile, cost of living has risen dramatically.

The average national annual income in the 1904 report was $756.68 per family.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly earnings in July of this year was $843.53 (an hourly average wage of $20.61).

The average annual income per household between July 2012 and July 2013 was $65,029 after taxes.

Americans on average are earning more per week than the average family of five earned in the year when this holiday was founded.

A few questions I'll be reflecting on today: Am I idle? Do I give my best at work every day? Do I spend more than I earn? What do I need to live versus what do I want to live?

It's my job to hold myself accountable and be grateful.

Robin Smith, immediate past Tennessee Republican Party chairwoman, is owner of Rivers Edge Alliance.

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moon4kat said...

A column full of useless old data that wasn't adjusted for inflation.
Did you notice that, currently, the annual cost of essential phone and internet services runs about double the amount a family made in 1904?
I'll be grateful when corporations are held accountable and hard-working people reap more of the profits generated by their labor.

September 1, 2014 at 9:11 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

"According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly earnings in July of this year was $843.53 (an hourly average wage of $20.61)."

What a meaningless statistic! In order to arrive at that figure one would have to take into account the exorbitant wealth of CEOS, white collar executives, and maybe even the top one percent. Without their numbers figured in, the average weekly earnings and hourly wage for the AVERAGE American would be, and actually are, much, much lower.

Interesting how Mrs. Smith skews the data to support the worn out and ill conceived conservative meme that poverty is strictly the fault of those mired in it, and all one has to do is be a bit more frugal and maybe work an extra job to pull oneself up by their bootstraps. And hell, let's even do away with those pesky socialistic child labor laws so that, if push comes to shove for the "have-nots," they can send the kids to work, like back in the good old days of the Gilded Age - the age that most conservatives and libertarians seem to want to take us back to.

September 1, 2014 at 1:09 p.m.
Ki said...

And about 2/3 of America's population weren't even counted in those statistics during that period, 1893 and, robin is referring to. Another portion of America's population were still being used in some form of forced labor without pay. Forced labor practices, sometimes at gunpoint, were still being practiced well into the mid-29th century. The Louisiana Levi is one example where fellow Americans were gathered up at gunpoint and forced to build it before the most prevent time the Levi burst. There can't be an accurate accountng when more than half went of the population wasn't included.

September 1, 2014 at 4:43 p.m.
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