A well earned day off

Times uncertain for America’s labor force

By The Mercury

Americans who Googled “Labor Day 2014” last week might have found little information about Labor Day and lots — and lots — of Labor Day sale options.

Nothing wrong with that. Sales are part of the Labor Day landscape, just as they’re part of Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and other American holidays. An extra day off — especially if it’s a paid holiday — means, among other things, a little more time to shop.

We hope the sales are successful. That would suggest that people are finding merchandise they like at prices they can afford. It also would mean that people have enough money to hit the stores, and that, in turn, suggests that they or other family members have jobs and are part of America’s work force.

It is those people — the tens of millions of Americans who go to work, whether full- or part-time, whether union members — the original stars of Labor Day — or not, that we celebrate and honor Monday. America’s workers remain among the most productive in the world. They work harder and longer — and with fewer days off — than their counterparts in most industrialized countries.

We celebrate these men and women who forge steel, make furniture, repair computers, construct homes and high-rises, wash cars, sell cars, deliver mail, flip hamburgers, drive trucks, answer phones, clean offices and perform countless other jobs that keep America moving.

We also worry about them. In far too many cases, they’re doing more for less, and too often their raises don’t keep up with the cost of living. Worse, their income won’t buy them what they need, never mind extras.

The lifestyle of many people in what was once America’s mighty middle class is slipping away. And even the dream of a middle class family is fading for millennials who grew up in such homes and whose reward for investing in a college education is tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

Granted, the unemployment rate looks much better than it did five, or even three, years ago. And, to be fair, the economic situation is much improved. Yet many of the new jobs don’t pay as well as the jobs that were lost, and many jobs that once were full-time with benefits have become part-time. Who knows how many Americans lost so much ground in the Great Recession that catching up will take years?

These people all struggle, some more than others. And, unfortunately, they’re not particularly revered — when they’re thought of at all — in the halls of Congress. America’s workers do, however, know more than most lawmakers do about a good day’s work and the value of a dollar.

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