Labor Day is upon us again. It’s the unofficial end of summer and once upon a time it was to celebrate the labor that made this country strong. Maybe not so much anymore.
Memorial Day celebrates veterans who died in action by visits to grave sites. July 4 celebrates the country’s birth with fireworks. Labor Day? Well, a few picnics, maybe some nostalgia when labor was more respected and some dread at what the future holds for labor.
Workers, and their day, just don’t seem to have the respect they once did. One reason for that might be the lack of unions that held the workers together. Back in the day in Anderson when General Motors and the United Auto Workers partnered for production, pay and profit, Labor Day resonated with meaning.
Now labor is more diffuse, every man and woman working for themselves for a lot less than they did when labor was an equal partner with its employers. The glue that held labor together is long gone, unlike the military tradition that still holds sway over Memorial Day and pride in the country itself on July 4. So the holiday becomes an excuse for one last summer fling and little else.
Recently released statistics show that Hoosiers’ average wages are at 1996 levels. That means people’s earnings have flat-lined for years and this affects entry into the middle class. According to a new study from Ball State University, most Indiana counties had personal income levels that were 20 to 30 years behind the national average. A few lagged even further as LaGrange County income levels were at 1964 levels while Miami and Starke counties were stuck in 1975.
This is a huge difference from the wages the UAW won from GM during the salad years in Anderson. Those wages defined the middle class and its workers. As a result, nonprofits like the United Way and other community organizations flourished.
All of that is gone, too. This past week, fast-food restaurant workers staged demonstrations in large American cities demanding “super-sized” wages. They consider $15 an hour a living wage. But they won’t get it. They have no leverage.
All of this surely has a psychological effect on workers, who see wages as a sign of respect and reward for a job well done. It’s like anything else: We see a higher price on something and we assume it’s better. We see higher wages for workers, we assume they are doing a good job and are in demand.
The economy is cyclical, and wages will eventually bounce back, but it will take more than, as the song goes, wishin’ and hopin’. Enjoy your Labor Day, and save part of your labor to work for a better tomorrow.
In summary Enjoy your Labor Day and save part of your labor to work for a better tomorrow.