Smith: Considering the value of your labor

Smith: Considering the value of your labor

September 1st, 2014 By Robin Smith in Opinion Columns

Robin Smith

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

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.