10 Fun and Fascinating Labor Day Facts for Kids

Typically associated with pool days, beach days, and barbecues, Labor Day is widely celebrated throughout the United States. It is, after all, the last unofficial day of summer. But in spite of its popularity, most people don’t know the history of this much-adored long weekend. So as you soak up the last rays of sunshine this September, consider teaching your children more about the cultural significance of this federal holiday.

What Is the History of Labor Day?

The first Labor Day took place on September 5, 1882 in New York City. Dissatisfied with long, 16-hour work days and harsh working conditions, laborers spent the unpaid day off protesting. In 1894, Congress passed an act officially making Labor Day a federal holiday. It has been celebrated ever since!

Who Founded Labor Day?

While it is unclear who exactly “founded” Labor Day, there are certainly some key players. Records from 1882 indicate that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was the one who suggested having a day to celebrate the working class. More recent research, however, shows that Matthew Maguire actually proposed the idea while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. He later went on to be secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, New Jersey.

Though the title of “founder” is disputed, both McGuire and Maguire attended the first Labor Day parade in 1882 in New York City.

Why Is Labor Day Celebrated?

Labor Day celebrates the working class and honors all of their contributions that have helped our country grow. Today, the holiday is celebrated as the unofficial last weekend of summer.

How Many People Make Up the U.S. Labor Force?

The U.S. labor force peaked in February 2020, hitting a high of 164.6 million workers. The term “labor force” includes anyone 16 years of age who is either employed or unemployed.

How Do People Celebrate Labor Day Today?

Labor Day is marked by a national “day-off” from work on the first Monday in September. People usually spend the day with family and friends, getting in the last of their favorite summer activities, like swimming and hot dog eating.

Why Do People Say 'You Can't Wear White After Labor Day?'

You may constantly hear people saying, “You can't wear white jeans after Labor Day!” but where exactly did this myth come from? Its origin may surprise you. This fashion “rule” originated in the 1800s as a way to distinguish between social classes.

Wearing light colors was a sign of status, indicating that one was wealthy enough to take vacation in the fall or winter and didn't have to worry about dirtying their white clothing in the workplace. Those who couldn't afford these luxuries didn't wear white after Labor Day, prompting the silly tradition we hear so often today.

But, don't worry, you can wear whatever color you'd like!

Other Fun Labor Day Facts

Looking for a few other fun facts? Here are some notable things about Labor Day.

  • Labor Day is one of the busiest travel days of the year, bested only by Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and the day before Thanksgiving.
  • According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, 818 hot dogs are eaten every second from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This amounts to 7 billion hot dogs: 7 billion in just three months!
  • Waffle House, a beloved American food chain, opened their first location on Labor Day in 1955.
  • Labor Day is actually said to be the third most popular day for grilling in the U.S.

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— Update: 16-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article How to Teach Your Kids the True Meaning of Labor Day from the website www.sheknows.com for the keyword what is labor day for kids.

These days, Labor Day is an excuse to gather family and friends together for one last summer barbecue or vacation before it’s back to the hustle and bustle of another school year. However, the holiday — which dates back centuries — is about so much more than getting an extra day off work to sleep in and play (though, those are indeed perks!).

At its most basic, the holiday, which falls on the first Monday of September, is a celebration of the millions of workers who keep the United States (and Canada if you’re north of the border) running. But the more detailed history paints a picture of how difficult working conditions were during the Industrial Revolution and why, especially now, it’s vital to advocate for workers’ and union rights. Here, we’ve laid out an easy way to talk to kids about the important federal holiday.

More: Teach Your Kids Labor Day Is More Than Just Sales — It’s About Work

Teach them the history.

The U.S. established Labor Day as a federal holiday in 1894 following years of social unrest between laborers and employers. While the Industrial Revolution brought many wonderful things to the nation (namely enhanced transportation, innovations like the telephone, and more job opportunities), it also created a slew of problems for employees (sometimes children) who worked long, hard hours seven days a week.

After years of mistreatment, unions popped up all over the country to advocate for workers’ rights, often by helping organize labor strikes and rallies. However, not every union could liberate workers from more tyrannical employers, and this sometimes led to uprisings and violence. Such was the case with the Pullman Strike of 1894. Business Insider reports the strike began after The Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago, which made luxury rail cars, severely cut the laborers’ wages and refused to improve working conditions.

Appalled, the American Railroad Union advised for businesses to boycott Pullman’s products, which ultimately impacted transportation across the nation. The situation continued to worsen, and ultimately, the federal government sent troops to Chicago to restore order. As you might have guessed, the troops’ presence only escalated the violence, and up to 30 people died as a result.

Soon after the strike, President Grover Cleveland declared Labor Day as a federal holiday to recognize the many sacrifices and contributions American workers make daily.

You can make this history as detailed or simplified as you’d like, depending on the age of your children.

More: Labor Day Facts & Trivia That’ll Get Your Kids Up to Speed on the Holiday

Relate the past to the present.

Working conditions have greatly improved in the United States since the 19th century, but we still have a long way to go before all workers are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

During his presidency, Donald Trump signed three executive orders that targeted federal labor unions and, therefore, hurt federal employees. Under these orders, Trump made it more difficult for employees and union reps to file grievances or bargain for workplace changes while also making it easier for federal employers to fire workers.

President Biden, during his campaign, endorsed a lot of union-friendly policies and has worked hard to put them in place. “[U]nion leaders and their allies are happily surprised with the breadth of Biden’s moves,” says Eleanor Mueller in an article for Politico. “Within the Labor Department alone, key agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are taking steps to reverse Trump-era policies and, in some cases, going beyond that.”

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While kids may not be able to fully grasp executive orders or labor unions (honestly, many of us could use a refresher), you can still communicate that workers still face issues today. To make it a positive lesson, you can explain why it’s important that kids learn how to advocate for themselves at an early age.

More: Labor Day Quotes That’ll Help You Celebrate the True Meaning of the Holiday

Tell them about your job.

Ever have a feeling that no one in your family truly understands what it is you do for 40 hours a week? Use this Labor Day as an excuse to bring your kids into your world by running them through your various responsibilities. Think of this as your turn for show and tell.

From there, you can take a more hands-on approach by asking kids to complete some of the tasks you’re expected to do on a daily basis. Are you a writer working on a deadline? Give them a short assignment to complete in 30 to 60 minutes. Work as an office coordinator or event planner? Ask your kids for help planning the next birthday party or family gathering. And if you’re a stay-at-home parent, walk them through all of the tasks you do to keep the house and family operating smoothly. (Bonus: This is also an ideal time to enlist their help with the household chores!)

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Teach them about other career options.

Let’s face it; not every kid is going to want to follow in their parents’ footsteps. And that’s totally OK! Teach your little ones about the huge variety of career options by reading books about different jobs.

Some ideas include:

  • When I Grow Up by Al Yankovic (yes, that “Weird Al”)
  • What Do Authors Do? by Eileen Christelow
  • Construction by Sally Sutton
  • Look What Brown Can Do! by T. Marie Harris
  • Look I’m an Engineer by DK
  • Lisette the Vet by Ruth Macpete
  • National Geographic Kids’ Helpers in Your Neighborhood by Shira Evans

You can also schedule kid-friendly visits to the local veterinarian office or fire station. Sometimes, these groups even host special days where kids can come and ask questions. For older kids, you can start talking about which kinds of internships and after-school work or volunteer opportunities interest them most.

Have some fun with Labor Day crafts & games!

Bust out the glitter glue and have a little fun with Labor Day-appropriate crafts. Kids can make thank-you cards for people they see on a regular basis (the mailman, the barista at your favorite coffee shop, the garbage truck crew).

Or get out some magazines and have kids cut out images to make fun career vision boards.

More: Labor Day Crafts for Kids

Of course, you should also make a little time to kick back and relax this Labor Day weekend. You deserve it!

A version of this article was originally published in August 2012. 

— Update: 16-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article How to explain Labor Day to kids: A script for parents from the website parents-together.org for the keyword what is labor day for kids.

Lots of folks get the day off of work or school for Labor Day — but do many of us really understand why? While enjoying the time off or participating in Labor Day cookouts or celebrations, it’s also important to remember the reason for the holiday. 

Follow this simple script to explain to your kids how Labor Day came to be, and how people through history worked tirelessly to get us the rights we have today — though lots of workers still struggle for basic rights to this day.

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What is Labor Day all about?

You can explain to kids:

“Every year on the first Monday in September, we celebrate workers and honor those who fought for better pay and working conditions years ago in what was called the ‘Labor Movement.’ Things like the minimum wage (a rule that says you can’t pay workers less than a certain amount) and labor unions (groups of workers who fight together for rights) came out of a long struggle for workers’ rights back in the 1800s. 

In fact, even some kids had to work back then. They sometimes had to work long hours in dangerous factories for very little pay. Now we have laws to protect kids and other workers from being treated badly. To celebrate American workers and the Labor Movement, President Grover Cleveland declared Labor Day a federal holiday in 1894. 

You can celebrate Labor Day by saying ‘thank you’ to someone who works hard. Mail carriers, sanitation workers, and cashiers are just some of the folks we see every day who do their job to make our lives easier!”

What is the minimum wage?

“The minimum wage is the lowest hourly wage an employer can legally pay a worker. The government sets the minimum wage, and right now it’s $7.25, though some places in the country have a higher minimum wage than that.

What do you think it would be like to earn the minimum wage and work full-time? Lots of folks do this, and you can see how it would be hard to make enough money to get by on $7.25 per hour, especially for a family. What do you think the minimum wage should be?”

What is the pay gap?

“You might hear about the gender pay gap or the racial pay gap. This means that, on average, women earn less than men for the same type of work, and people of color earn less than white people for the same type of work.

There’s no single reason for the pay gap, but one of the major factors is that women are generally expected to leave or pause their careers to raise children, while men are usually expected to continue working. This can lead to a big difference in money earned over a lifetime. Other factors like gender and racial discrimination, and bias towards white men for promotions and executive positions also contribute to the pay gap.”

Why is affordable childcare important?

“Not only would affordable childcare help to decrease the gender pay gap, but it would help lots of parents earn more money for their families. Right now, paying for childcare often uses up much of the money parents earn while working. When working parents have to choose between making money and taking care of their children, they are put in a very difficult position. 

So many parents have to stay home if their kids are out of school or the usual babysitter isn’t available, and then aren’t able to make money during that time. Parents should have more options for childcare while they make money to support their families.”

What is family leave?

“Another goal of today’s Labor Movement is to get every working person guaranteed paid family leave. This is when a job continues to pay someone while they take time off to care for a new baby. If all men and women had paid family leave, it would do a lot to decrease the pay gap and keep workers from having to make the choice between earning money and raising their family.”

Talking through these points with your kid can help them understand the enormous gains that the Labor Movement made while still recognizing that we have many protections to continue fighting for. Take this Labor Day to learn the history of the holiday together, and find out how you can contribute as a family to the continued struggle for workers’ rights. 


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About the Author: Tung Chi