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How to explain Labor Day to kids: A script for parents

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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.

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. 

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.