Labor Day 2017 Fast Facts

Since 1884, ten years before President Grover Cleveland signed the law designating “Labor Day” as the first Monday in September, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has been providing gold-standard data for and about American workers.

In honor of Labor Day, let’s take a look at some fast facts we’ve compiled that show the current picture of our labor market. 


Working or Looking for Work

  • The civilian labor force participation rate—the share of the population working or looking for work—was 62.9 percent in August. The rate has generally been trending down since the early 2000s, although it has leveled off in recent years.

Not Working

  • The unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in August. The rate has shown little movement in recent months after declining earlier in the year. The last time the unemployment rate was lower was in 2000 and early 2001.
  • In August, there were 1.7 million long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more). This represented 24.7 percent of the unemployed, down from a peak of 45.5 percent in April 2010 but still above the 16-percent share seen in late 2006 and 2007.
  • Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for teenagers was 13.6 percent in August, while the rates were 4.1 percent for adult men and 4.0 percent for adult women. The unemployment rate was 7.7 percent for Blacks or African Americans, 5.2 percent for Hispanics or Latinos, 4.0 percent for Asians, and 3.9 percent for Whites. 

Job Openings

Pay and Benefits

  • Average weekly earnings rose by 2.8 percent between July 2016 and July 2017; adjusted for inflation, real average weekly earnings are up 1.1 percent during this period.
  • Paid leave benefits are available to a majority of private industry workers, where the access rates were 68 percent for sick leave, 76 percent for vacation, and 77 percent for holidays in March 2017.
  • Nearly half (49 percent) of private industry workers participated in employer-sponsored medical care benefits in March 2017.


  • Labor productivity in nonfarm businesses increased 0.9 percent in the second quarter of 2017. Although productivity is growing at a historically slow pace since the Great Recession, the manufacturing sector recently posted the strongest productivity growth in 21 quarters, growing 2.5 percent in the second quarter of 2017. 

Safety and Health


  • Occupations that typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry made up 21 percent of employment. This educational category includes registered nurses, teachers at the kindergarten through secondary levels, and many management, business and financial operations, computer, and engineering occupations.
  • For 11 of the 15 occupations projected to grow the fastest between 2014 and 2024, some postsecondary education is typically required for entry.


Work Stoppages

  • Over the past four decades, major work stoppages (a strike or lockout) declined approximately 90 percent. From 1977 to 1986 there were 1,446 major work stoppages, while in 2007–16, there were 143.

From an American worker’s first job to retirement and everything in between, BLS has a stat for that! Want to learn more? Follow us on Twitter @BLS_gov.

BLS Mathematical Statistician Receives American Statistical Association Founders Award

Our very own Director of the Mathematical Statistics Research Center, Dr. Wendy Martinez, recently received the American Statistical Association’s Founders Award at the 2017 Joint Statistical Meetings in Baltimore. This award honors those select few ASA members with “longstanding and distinguished service to the association and its membership.” To be eligible for the award, candidates must have served the organization over an extended period in a variety of volunteer leadership roles. The Founders Award is the only ASA award that is kept secret and announced only at the awards ceremony. Wendy said she was caught “completely by surprise” when her name was called at the awards ceremony. Previously, Wendy earned her status as an ASA Fellow for “making outstanding contributions to statistical science” in 2006. Incidentally, two BLS alumni, Nick Horton and John Eltinge, also received the 2017 Founders Award that evening.

Wendy Martinez receiving Founders Award from American Statistical Association President Barry Nussbaum.

Wendy Martinez receives Founders Award from American Statistical Association President Barry Nussbaum.

Wendy’s distinguished service to the ASA includes many years serving as a Section Chair, Committee Chair, and Program Chair. Wendy is especially proud of her role as the Program Chair to plan the Joint Statistical Meetings held in Washington, DC, in 2009. She also was a keynote speaker at the “Women in Statistics and Data Science” conference last year. In addition, Wendy founded the “Statistics Surveys” journal and serves as Coordinating Editor. The Journal publishes survey articles in theoretical, computational, and applied statistics.

Wendy joined BLS 6 years ago. At BLS, Wendy oversees the Mathematical Statistics Research Center. When asked what her favorite part about working at BLS is, Wendy said, “It’s the ability to be innovative. BLS has a culture of fostering innovation in its employees.”

Congratulations on an outstanding professional achievement, Wendy!

Diagnosing “Grey’s Anatomy” with 5 doses of BLS data

Editor’s note: Elizabeth Cross, an economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, wrote this post.

A television series that blends the professional and personal stories of doctors, “Grey’s Anatomy” is one of America’s most-watched medical dramas. You may know everything there is to know about McDreamy and McSteamy, but there’s still plenty to learn about other facets of the show.

Here are 5 facts from BLS related to “Grey’s Anatomy.”

  1. The drama is set in a fictional hospital in Seattle, Washington. According to data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, there were 34 general medical and surgical hospitals in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington, metropolitan statistical area in 2016.

Artistic image of doctors and a patient in an operating room.

  1. The show’s doctors and nurses rarely discuss their income or wages, but data from the Occupational Employment Statistics survey offer clues. Those estimates show an average annual wage of $90,780 in May 2016 for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington, metropolitan statistical area. That was more than the average annual wage of $79,160 for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations nationally.

Artistic image of a medical chart, stethoscope, calculator, mobile phone, and money.

  1. The series has been praised for its racially diverse cast, but that small-screen diversity doesn’t always match occupational reality. According to the Current Population Survey, 71.6 percent of employed physicians and surgeons in 2016 were White, which is about on par with the current “Grey’s Anatomy” cast. But 7.5 percent of physicians and surgeons in the United States were Black or African American and 19.3 percent were Asian, compared with about 31 percent and 0 percent, respectively, in the current cast. Similarly, 38.2 percent of physicians and surgeons in the United States in 2016 were women, while around half of the drama’s main characters are women.

An artistic image of a diverse group of six doctors.

  1. The show’s writers seem keen on killing off its characters in dramatic fashion. Most of those casualties have involved plot lines away from the hospital, but the few that have occurred onsite may imitate real life. According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 7 of the 11 on-the-job fatal injuries for physicians and surgeons nationwide in 2015 were due to intentional violence by other people or self-inflicted injury.

An artistic image of a gravestone with flowers.

  1. Although some characters have met a bleak end, new ones are always being added to the series. Planning for new workers to fill openings may be grounded in fact: Employment Projections data show that about 290,000 job openings for physicians and surgeons are expected between 2014 and 2024. About 190,700 of those openings are projected to replace workers who leave the occupation permanently.

An artistic image of a hospital, ambulance, and medical helicopter.

Most Dangerous Jobs?

TV shows like Dangerous Jobs, Deadliest Job Interview, Ax Men, and Deadliest Catch vividly portray some of the most dangerous jobs people have. Here at the Bureau of Labor Statistics we produce data about dangers in the workplace, or workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

Our list of occupations with high fatal injury rates (on page 19) is often used externally as a list of the “most dangerous” jobs. However, at BLS we strongly believe there is no one measure that tells which job is the most dangerous. Why is that?

A graphic showing the 3 occupations with the highest death rates.

For starters, there is no universal definition of “dangerous” or “hazardous.” There are many other elements that factor into any definition of a “dangerous job,” such as the likelihood of incurring a nonfatal injury, the potential severity of that nonfatal injury, the safety precautions necessary to perform the job, and the physical and mental demands of the job.

It’s also difficult to accurately measure fatal injury rates for occupations with fewer workers.

BLS has certain minimum thresholds that must be met for a fatal injury rate to be published. So, fatal injury rates are not calculated for many occupations that have a relatively small number of fatal work injuries and employment.

A graphic showing the 3 occupations with the highest number of deaths.

Take the occupation elephant trainer*, for instance. Because few workers are employed as elephant trainers, a small number of fatal injuries to elephant trainers would make the fatal injury rate extremely high for a single year, despite their low number of deaths. On the other hand, in most years, this occupation incurs no deaths, rendering their fatality rate 0 and ranking them among the least at risk for incurring a fatal injury.

BLS provides the data to help people, from policymakers to businesses and workers, better understand hazards in the workplace. However, we can only talk about what our data show, such as the number of deaths and fatal injury rates of different occupations. We have to leave it to others to analyze or rank the danger of particular jobs.

*“Elephant trainer” is a hypothetical occupational classification. The classification BLS uses groups these workers with either “artists and performers” or “animal caretakers,” both of which include many more people than just elephant trainers.

Thinking about Summer Jobs

It’s the last few days of school for many high schoolers, and college students have already started their summer break. Time to look for a summer job? Or maybe not. According to information from our Current Population Survey, fewer than half (43.2 percent) of teenagers ages 16–19 participated in the labor force in July 2016, meaning they either worked or were actively looking for work.

This is a sharp contrast from my own summer experience 40 years earlier, when I was either looking for opportunities to get out of the house and make some money, or it was made clear by my mom and dad that I wouldn’t be sitting around the house all summer. Apparently my experience wasn’t unique, as the labor force participation rate among 16–19 year-olds in July 1978 was 71.8 percent.

A chart showing labor force participation rates of 16-19 year-olds and 20-24 year-olds in July from 1948 to 2016.

Editor’s note: A text-only version of the graphic is below.

Yes, kids worked in the summer. And what were we doing? You name it.

My buddy down the street delivered newspapers, winter and summer. You may have heard of a newspaper; it’s kind of like printing the entire Internet every day on grey paper. And it was typically delivered by kids on bicycles—twice a day where I grew up. My father enjoyed the afternoon newspaper and an adult beverage when he came home from work every day. Afternoon newspapers included partial box scores for day baseball games, as well as noon stock prices from Wall Street.

And the newspaper was the source of my first summer job. Every summer, the local newspaper would let kids place free want ads. You may have heard of want ads; it’s kind of like Craigslist on grey paper. Kids would advertise to babysit, do chores, mow the lawn, or any other kind of service. My jack-of-all-trades ad got me several jobs helping older folks clean out basements, attics, and assorted other overgrown spaces. It was hard work; I definitely earned my pay.

A graphic showing the top 10 industries employing 16-19 year-olds n July 2016.

I worked at the local cheese factory one summer, or should I say part of the summer. The smell wasn’t very pleasant. I spent several summers as a cafeteria worker, mostly working the cash register but occasionally serving food as well. A key skill needed to keep the cafeteria line moving was the ability to make change. In those days, the cash register didn’t tell you how much change to provide. In fact, at the end of each shift I had to reconcile my till against the day’s receipts. I quickly learned to provide the proper change lest I had to dig it out of my own pocket. And under the heading of “employee benefits,” I got free lunch every day, including ice cream.

And then there were the psych experiments. I lived near a university that was always looking for “subjects” for their experiments. They were mostly cognitive activities, like grouping items into categories. Only occasionally were there wires attached to my head. These activities might be considered an early version of a gig job, as they were typically scheduled at random times and always paid in cash. (There was no Venmo back then.) And yes, I reported every dime on my tax return.

I suspect summer jobs have changed over the years. I hear of kids getting internships to build skills and advance their future careers. And many students are spending their summers in school, or practicing sports, or in specialized programs to build skills, like computer programming.

Every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a special report on youth employment. We will release the 2017 report on August 16.


Labor force participation rates of young people in July 1948–2016, not seasonally adjusted
Year Ages 16 to 19 Ages 20 to 24
1948 65.5 66.7
1949 63.5 68.2
1950 63.2 66.1
1951 65.2 66.4
1952 63.5 63.9
1953 61.5 62.7
1954 59.5 63.8
1955 61.0 64.5
1956 65.5 66.5
1957 64.2 67.6
1958 60.3 67.5
1959 59.8 66.3
1960 61.3 68.0
1961 61.2 66.9
1962 60.5 68.0
1963 58.8 68.4
1964 57.7 68.8
1965 60.9 69.9
1966 64.4 69.2
1967 64.9 70.6
1968 64.8 70.8
1969 65.5 71.7
1970 64.5 72.8
1971 65.1 72.4
1972 65.7 74.3
1973 67.3 76.1
1974 68.5 77.3
1975 67.9 77.5
1976 68.8 78.8
1977 69.5 79.1
1978 71.8 80.5
1979 70.9 81.2
1980 70.7 80.8
1981 67.9 81.0
1982 66.9 80.7
1983 67.8 81.3
1984 68.9 81.6
1985 69.6 81.4
1986 68.5 82.7
1987 67.6 82.9
1988 69.8 82.4
1989 69.6 83.8
1990 66.5 81.7
1991 64.4 80.4
1992 65.0 81.7
1993 65.1 81.5
1994 65.4 80.9
1995 66.6 80.5
1996 64.8 80.6
1997 63.6 81.2
1998 63.9 80.7
1999 62.9 81.3
2000 61.8 80.2
2001 60.3 79.4
2002 57.5 79.3
2003 53.7 78.3
2004 53.6 78.1
2005 53.0 77.7
2006 53.5 77.5
2007 50.0 77.5
2008 49.6 78.1
2009 46.5 76.7
2010 42.6 74.7
2011 41.6 73.5
2012 43.4 73.8
2013 43.3 73.6
2014 42.3 74.2
2015 41.3 74.1
2016 43.2 73.1