Worker in Fritz Lang's movie, Metropolis

Today is Labor Day, a federal holiday in the United States. It’s intended to salute the “working man” and began as a commemoration of a parade conducted by the Knights of Labor in New York in 1882. Labor Day was adopted as a federal holiday by Act of Congress in 1894.

The picture at left is from Fritz Lang’s 1927 science fiction move, Metropolis. The worker, beaten down physically and spiritually, is symbolically crucified on an enormous clock. Metropolis owes much to H. G. Wells’s novel, The Time Machine, in which humanity is actually divided into two species: the docile, idle Eloi and the bestial Morlocks, descendants of industrial workers.

When the holiday was adopted the “ordinary working man” was far from ordinary. In the federal census for 1900 90% of all American men listed their occupations as farmer. Organized labor as a percentage of the total workforce peaked roughly fifty years ago at a third; now it’s roughly an eighth of the total workforce, many of those members of various government workers’ unions.

The modern-day working man

The image of today’s worker has changed somewhat, see above. In the popular imagery at least today’s worker may not be physically beaten down but continues to be spiritually defeated. Note also the isolation and the dreary, monochrome cubicle.

There’s good news of a sort for workers in the U. S. today.

GENEVA – American workers stay longer in the office, at the factory or on the farm than their counterparts in Europe and most other rich nations, and they produce more per person over the year.

They also get more done per hour than everyone but the Norwegians, according to a U.N. report released Monday, which said the United States “leads the world in labor productivity.”

The average U.S. worker produces $63,885 of wealth per year, more than their counterparts in all other countries, the International Labor Organization said in its report. Ireland comes in second at $55,986, followed by Luxembourg at $55,641, Belgium at $55,235 and France at $54,609.

The productivity figure is found by dividing the country’s gross domestic product by the number of people employed. The U.N. report is based on 2006 figures for many countries, or the most recent available.

Only part of the U.S. productivity growth, which has outpaced that of many other developed economies, can be explained by the longer hours Americans are putting in, the ILO said.

Median income in the U. S. rose slightly, too, so, although much of the productivity increase is attributable to the large income gains on the part of the highest income earners, not all of it is.

My previous Labor Day post:

Labor Day, 2006

1 comment… add one
  • johnmeister Link

    These productivity numbers are calculated by taking the Total GDP and dividing it by the number of workers. That means all the illegals who contribute to the economy are not counted. So the actual productivity is lower. How much lower I don’t know.

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