This coming Monday, many of us will take a well-deserved break from our jobs and have an opportunity to spend time with family and friends. The day is a celebration of the American worker, and we should all take a moment to reflect on the meaning of this holiday. Americans are known worldwide as a people who value work. The idea of work is fundamental to who we are as Americans. At its best, work in America is innovative, progressive, and built on ideas that do everything from building the great infrastructures we rely on to providing the services we use every day of our lives.
Current data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics tell us that our unemployment rate is about 3.9 – 4.0%. It’s great news; it means that those looking for work are finding jobs. Because of a tighter job market, wages usually tend to rise as employers compete for a relatively smaller pool of employees. The situation today is a result of an economy that has recovered from a devastating recession a decade ago. Back then, we were shedding about 700 thousand jobs a month. It was a time of crisis. Times are very different today.
It’s important to understand that the good news comes with some objective truths: there is much more work to be done. While the employment news is positive, deeper scrutiny shows that much of the working population in this country is still struggling. Since the mid-1970’s, wages of the average worker have remained effectively flat, only moving between 1-2% per year. This fact, coupled with the continued increase in the cost of living for such things as healthcare, is putting the American worker further behind on their ability to purchase a home, reduce student loan debt, or to save for retirement. As a result, many are resorting to working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Most economists agree that the reasons the average American isn’t seeing their pay increase with the growth of the economy is due to globalization of labor, automation of industry, and a decline in union membership since the ‘70s – which will depress wages for both union workers and non-union workers alike. I feel we should address this issue through public policy decisions that will help the working people in this country see more of the fruits of their labor during one of the most productive economic periods in our history.
Work’s important. It’s obviously something that allows us to pay for the expenses of living, but it also helps us find our purpose. There is an old maxim of “do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life”. That is true for many. For others, work is a means to an end. It’s a stepping stone for the next opportunity. It’s an opportunity to learn and grow to take on more responsibility or challenges. Work can provide dignity. You get to come home at the end of the day, knowing you’ve done something worthwhile, provided for your family, and have some pride in the results of your efforts. That’s something that we all appreciate.
As we enjoy the short break the holiday brings, let’s remember a couple of things: we are blessed to live in a country where opportunity is greater for people to work and grow than in other parts of the world, and we also need to remember that it is the worker that keeps the massive economic engine that generates the most productive country in modern history chugging along.
I hope you all have a terrific holiday!