The unofficial end of summer is upon us.
But before everyone can contentedly begin sipping their pumpkin spice latte and start Christmas shopping without embarrassment, there is the last official celebration of summer, Labor Day. Some will cook out, some will go to parades or the beach, some will binge-watch television from sunup to sundown in air-conditioned splendor, and still others will focus on creating Instagrammable desserts and cocktails for their friends, loved ones, customers and the internet community at large.
That last one is not a joke – in fact, if someone doesn’t make us an Angelo Azzurro cocktail at a neighborhood BBQ this Labor Day weekend, we’re not sure how we can be expected to get into the spirit of the holiday at all.
But then, luckily for us – and possibly our neighborhood’s amateur bartenders – for Labor Day this year, as is the case most years, American retailers and merchants will be ready, willing and able to help us get into the true spirit of the holiday weekend by deeply discounting their summer wares, aiming to lure customers into stores while hoping that the full-priced and stylishly merchandised fall fashions capture their hearts and pocketbooks.
But shopping won’t be the only thing we do this Labor Day: According to reports, there will also be a fair amount of traveling. But as long as workers are taking the day off and spending money doing something, it might actually be the best way to get in touch with the spirit of the holiday.
Glad you asked.
A Brief History of Labor Day
Labor Day got its start as a PR rehabilitation attempt by President Grover Cleveland in 1894 to settle the tensions from the Pullman rail workers strike, which spiraled out of control and went down as one of the bloodiest episodes in American labor history. Labor Day as a holiday only applied to federal workers when Cleveland signed it into law that year. It was up to the states to sign their own laws, which they all did over the course of the next 100 years.
During the time that Labor Day was becoming a universal celebration in this country, the face of the American workforce changed rather dramatically.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of the turn-of-the-20th-century workers were either farmers (38 percent), miners and manufacturing laborers (31 percent) or service workers, who represented about 28 percent of the population. Fast forward 100 years, and only 3 percent of the U.S. population worked on farms, 19 percent worked in mining and manufacturing and 78 percent worked in the service industry. And who was doing the working had dramatically changed.
At the turn of the 20th century, only 19 percent of the workforce was female, and women represented a mere 1 percent of the nation’s lawyers and 5 percent of its doctors. Children under the age of 12 were 6 percent of the workforce. By the turn of the 21st century, the American workforce was 60 percent female, with women representing 29 percent of the country’s lawyers and 25 percent of its doctors. Children under the age of 12 had been banned from participating in the workforce at all. By the year 2000, the American workforce was six times larger than it was in the year 1900.
And, according to a report by Princeton University, politicians and business owners' views of workers also underwent a significant revision during the 20th century. Things like a shortened work week of five days (instead of six), time off and minimum wage for workers – things that had been long opposed as essentially deleterious to business – suddenly gained support.
As the economy shifted away from its agrarian roots and settled more comfortably into an industrial consumer society, it became important for businesses to find an ever larger base of people to buy the products and services that were now being more cheaply and easily produced. Shortening the workweek was one way of turning the working class into the consuming class.
So, hitting the mall, shopping center or car lot this Labor Day? Cruising Amazon in your pajamas? Redecorating your house with Wayfair while watching your town parade?
You are living up to the highest hopes of many of the politicians and business owners who championed for this holiday for 100 years at the state level, who dearly hoped that you would reward yourself for all your labors with a little treat on your day off.
And now, with the aid of smartphones, tablets, apps and buy buttons, consumers can multitask and buy anytime and anywhere they choose.
Now, about what consumers might buy…
What We Will Buy
Going into the weekend festival of shopping, cars are the big item getting most of the headlines, as the end of August typically signals the start of dealerships pushing out their current year's model vehicles to make space for the new models at the end of the year.
These discounts will run deep, according to Edmunds, though won't likely be quite as impressive as the kinds of deals customers tend to see at the end of the year when the 2019 models are already out. But for consumers who want selection, Labor Day is apparently the go-to sale month. Around 80 percent of cars sold in September will be 2018 models, according to Edmunds sales data. By December, the 2018 inventory is projected to be about half that.
And car dealers are eager to cash in on bargain-hungry shoppers this weekend.
Ford gets the 2018 award for the Labor Day commercial most likely to make people cry, call their mothers and possibly buy a truck (the first two seem more likely).
Other than cars, Labor Day is big for things that are rapidly going out of season – grills, patio furniture, summer clothes and the like – as well as school supplies, for the obvious reasons. Consumers are advised to avoid fall clothes, electronics and toys, all of which will almost certainly see deep discounts later in the fall as the holiday season draws near.
And though not everyone will go shopping, it seems Labor Day 2018 will still be a good time for travel, as Americans will be also be doing a bit more of it than usual.
Oh, The Places We’ll Go
According to Washington Post reports, Labor Day 2018 will be marked by millions of Americans hoping to hit the road and get in one last bit of fun before summer is officially through. It will largely be a road tripping type of holiday, as children have already returned to school in several states, meaning long-distance travel is off the menu for many families.
But, because the Labor Day holiday technically begins in August this year, Americans are more likely to travel, according to AAA’s John Townsend. And Americans have been on the road this summer more than has been the norm in recent years, according to AAA data – a trend largely expected to hold through the holiday season.
“It would be at record levels,” Townsend said of travelers this weekend, noting that standstill traffic in major metros will almost assuredly be at a near-standstill during prime driving times.
He also noted that people traveling by air should arrive particularly early at the airport this year, because it has been a summer of unusually long wait times to get through security. That has been driven by an apparent spike in cases of travelers caught with weapons at airports. These, to be sure, weren’t criminal attempts at hijacking, but rather customers who were either not clear on the TSA rules about guns on planes, or had simply forgotten they had packed or were carrying a gun.
Last year was a strong spending year for Labor Day: Travelers spent an average of $380 apiece on their trips, according to the U.S. Travel Association. All in, that adds up to about $13.5 billion, since AAA noted that about 35 million travelers took to the roads – not a bad haul.
This year, the price of gas is up a bit – 21.86 percent – which might put a damper on some of those travel figures. Still, 25 percent of Americans say they plan to hit the road this weekend for the holiday. The most popular destinations will be Chicago, Orlando, New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. About half (40 percent of Americans) say they plan to BBQ this weekend, and on average they plan to spend $58 per grillout experience. American parents will also be spending hard on their kids' back-to-school lists: $642 is the average cost of sending a child back to school, $942 to send an adult.
Happy Labor Day – and happy shopping.