Are Americans Workaholics?

by Elpidio R. Estioko

On September 5, we celebrated a national holiday that was dear to our hearts… Labor Day! It’s a national holiday that always falls on the first Monday in September which gives workers a three-day weekend off from work often referred to as Labor Day Weekend (LDW).

As I See It, it was a day, not only for workers but also for their families. It was a day of rest, a day of entertainment, a day of hope, a day of enjoyment, a day of shopping, a day of reflection, a day with the family, a bonding opportunity with relatives… and a day for Americans who have been working so hard on a day-to-day basis, for their families.

Most of the time, we refer to average Americans as workaholics because they work two to three jobs to put food on the table and keep both ends meet. They also are reported to take advantage of working overtime.

So, does this mean America has more workaholics than any other nation? Is it true that America is home to more “workaholics” than any other country?

That seems to be the case but according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international entity based in Paris with 38-member countries, the US is not No. 1 in terms of hours worked.

The US ranks No. 12 in the world in terms of yearly hours worked by the average worker at 1,791 hours. No. 1 is Mexico at 2,128 hours; followed by Costa Rica at 2.073 hours. The rest of the top 10 are Columbia (1,964), Chile (1.916), Korea (1,915), Malta (1,882), Russia (1,874), Greece (1872), Romania (1,838), and Croatia (1,835).

As one of the most common paid holidays in the US, Business News Daily also found that “97% of employers provide time off to their employees in observance of Labor Day.”

Typically, however, police and correctional officers, certain utilities workers and operators, air traffic controllers, registered nurses, firefighters, those in retail, and those in major transportation services don’t get the day off. They are frontliners that need to work even during Labor Day.

The history of Labor Day in the United States and Canada dates back to the late 19th century when the trade union and labor movements grew enormously and resultantly a variety of days were chosen by trade unionists as a day to celebrate labor.

The holiday was first proposed in the 1880s by Matthew Maguire, a machinist, while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York in 1882.

In May 1882, Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor proposed Labor Day after witnessing the annual labor festival held in Toronto, Canada. Oregon was the first state of the United States to make it an official public holiday in 1887.

In June 1894, during the Pullman Strike, which resulted in the deaths of workers at the hands of United States Army and United States Marshals Service, United States Congress unanimously voted to approve legislation to make Labor Day a national holiday and President Grover Cleveland signed it into law six days after the end of the strike.

Traditionally, Labor Day was marked with a street parade to demonstrate to the public the strength and hardworking spirit of trade and labor organizations. This parade was followed by a festival for the workers and their families. This became the pattern for Labor Day celebrations plus speeches by prominent men and women which were introduced later.

Presently, Labor Day 2022 is a day of rest or the last chance for many workers to go on trips before the summer ends.

For many students, it marks one of the last few days before school starts again. In some neighborhoods, people organize fireworks displays, barbecues and public arts or sports events (with the football season starting on or around Labor Day and many teams playing their first game of the year during Labor Day weekend).

For most people, Labor Day means two things: a day off and a chance to say goodbye to the summer.

But why is it called Labor Day? Well, it is a day set aside to pay tribute to working men and women. It has been celebrated as a national holiday in the United States and Canada since 1894.

However, like most cultural events, there is still some doubt over its origination although records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor working men and women. But many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday.

Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire proposed the holiday in 1882 What isclear, however, is that the Central Labor Union adopted the Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

Records show that the first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, based on the plans of the Central Labor Union.

In 1884, the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date.

The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

The reality is that the average American work so hard, regardless of the rankings compared to other countries, to be able to put food on the table and pay their bills. They deserve a much-needed break!

Let’s not forget, the workers are the backbone of the nation! Happy Labor Day, fellow Americans!

ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email the author at

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