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The state of the working in Florida
By CHRISTINA REXRODE, Times Staff Writer
Published September 3, 2007
Washington, Columbus and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. all have their days. Today, Labor Day, celebrates you.
So in honor of the holiday for the hoi polloi, here's a look at the state of Florida workers and a brief history on how this celebration came about.
(Oh, and if you're grilling out and enjoying a paid holiday today, be grateful: According to the Center for Law and Social Policy, a quarter of American workers won't get that privilege.)
How does compensation in Florida compare with the rest of the country?
The median wage in Florida in 2006 was $14.31 per hour, which ranked 27th in the nation. That's according to a report released Sunday by the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University. Florida has traditionally been viewed as a state with a low cost of living, which long helped offset mediocre wages. But the state is losing that allure: The FIU report concludes that the weighted average cost of living here is 107.6, which means it's almost 8 points above the national average.
So the wages aren't great. But is it easy to get a job in Florida?
Generally, yes. As of July, unemployment was 3.9 percent, the lowest of the 10 most populous states. Most economists would consider that full employment, meaning everyone who really wants a job has one. But job creation is starting to slow: Even though 3.9 percent is a low rate of unemployment, it's up from 3.5 percent the previous month and 3.3 percent the previous year.
What career paths should I avoid?
Maybe the ones that have lost jobs in the state over the past year. Construction is the No. 1 loser here, shedding 17,900 jobs. The manufacturing and information sectors also lost jobs.
So who's creating jobs?
Over the past year, Florida has added jobs in education, health services, leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, and government. Government is now starting to ax jobs, though, because of the statewide budget crunch.
Do unions have a strong presence in Florida?
No. Only 5.2 percent of Florida workers are unionized, according to the FIU report. That makes Florida 45th in the country for unionization rates; the national average is 12 percent. Florida is a right-to-work state, which means that workers cannot be required to join a union.
How did Labor Day begin?
It is believed to have started with a parade of 10,000 workers in New York on Sept. 5, 1882. Union leader and carpenter Peter McGuire wanted a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold." He suggested September in order to provide a break during the long stretch between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. Others give credit to Matthew Maguire, a union leader and machinist from Paterson, N.J. Both helped stage the '82 parade. By the next year, more than half the states had their own Labor Day, and in 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill making it a federal holiday.
Where is it celebrated?
Although the first parade was on a Tuesday, the celebration quickly moved to the first Monday in September and is observed throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada. In 1889, a congress of world socialist parties held in Paris voted to support the U.S. labor movement's demand for an eight-hour workday. It chose May 1, 1890, as a day of demonstrations. Afterward, May 1 became a holiday called Labor Day in many nations. In Australia, it is called Eight Hour Day.
How has the celebration changed over the years?
The New York unions proposed a day to honor the social and economic achievements of workers and their contributions to America's prosperity. They thought it should include a parade to show the strength and spirit of labor organizations, followed by a picnic or festival for workers and their families. Speeches by prominent men and women came later. For decades it was also used to let workers air their grievances. Labor Day eventually took on a more holiday atmosphere and became summer's last hurrah.
Information from the Department of Labor, Library of Congress, World Book and Times files was used in this report.