Manual labor is any work that is done with the hands. This can be anything from unskilled labor such as proverbial ditch digging to highly technical jobs like machining. Employers who rely heavily upon manual labor will doubtless want to know the average cost of manual labor, as this will form a large part of their budget.
The wages for manual labor will vary greatly from one occupation to another. This is because manual labor encompasses such as a broad number of jobs. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics pegged the median hourly wage of a farm laborer at $8.98 in May 2010. In contrast, an elevator installer and repairman made a median hourly wage of $34.09. Even within a single industry, such as construction, there is much variation -- the aforementioned elevator worker represents the high end, with roofing helpers making $11.21 per hour.
Wages are the most obvious part of a labor cost, but they are only part of the picture. Employers must take into account benefits as well as payroll taxes and other compulsory benefits such as workmans' compensation insurance and unemployment insurance. Benefits, compulsory or otherwise, can dramatically increase the cost of manual labor. In sectors of the economy such as auto manufacture and petroleum processing, benefits account for nearly as much of the cost of labor as an employee's wages.
Labor costs, including both salaries and benefits, vary from one part of the United States to another. Wages are highest in the Northeast and the West and lowest in the South, according to the BLS. Labor costs tend to be higher in places where the cost of living is higher, such as cities, and lower where the cost of living is lower, such as the country. This could be a factor in where a business chooses to set up, as the difference can be significant.
Sectors of the economy that rely upon manual labor -- construction and manufacturing -- are significantly less unionized than the public sector. They are, in fact, among the least unionized sectors of the economy. Where a union exists, however, it will increase the average cost of manual labor. Unionized workers earn, on average, 30 percent more than their nonunion counterparts according to the AFL-CIO website. The same source states that over 80 percent of union workers have health care and a pension.