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Most Americans still have to work on MLK Day. Here’s what’s open and closed

Most Americans still have to work on MLK Day. Here’s what’s open and closed
[Photo: Brian Kraus/Unsplash]

If you work for a private sector company and have Martin Luther King Jr. Day off, thank your bosses: Most Americans still clock in for this federal holiday, which marks the civil-rights leader’s birthday.

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Over 50% of workers are expected to be on the job this MLK Jr. Day, based on previous years’ figures. The type of job matters. Last year a whopping 84% of workers in manufacturing businesses were expected at work (some surveys put that number over 90%), while 72% of nonprofits gave the day off to nonessential staff.

This is actually a huge improvement. Observance of MLK Jr. Day has been steadily on the rise for years. Back in 2009, 72% of all employees had to go to work. The downside is that with more people free to spend their Monday shopping and eating, most restaurant and retail workers are expected on the job.

Though frequently called a “public holiday” or “national holiday,” MLK Jr. Day is, technically speaking, a federal holiday, along with Washington’s Birthday and Columbus Day, which means that companies can ignore it: The “day off” part of the federal law is only legally applicable for federal employees and the District of Columbia.

States individually decide their own holidays, and they took their sweet time: Despite President Reagan signing MLK Jr. Day into existence as a federal holiday in 1983, it was first observed in 1986, and all 50 states did not recognize it until 2000.

What’s closed:

  • The finance industry, including banks, the New York Stock Exchange, and Nasdaq
  • Federal and government services, including the United States Postal Service and the DMV
  • Most schools (though some states allow districts to decide themselves)

What’s open:

  • Stores and restaurants, some with one-day sales
  • Museums, many of which offer special admissions deals
  • UPS and FedEx
  • Nap time for you. We hope.
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