For some, Labor Day marks the end of summer, one of the few remaining days to have a cook-out, and the time of year when public-school children return to school from summer vacation. For others, Labor Day is when retailers sell items at summer clearance prices and, before “winter white” clothing became fashionable, the last day to wear white shoes. But, officially, Labor Day honors the contributions of working men and women to the growth and prosperity of our nation. This Labor Day, we should be especially proud of the dedication and hard work of American workers who are expected to do more with less as organizations continue to eliminate jobs and lay off workers.
- According to a labor market survey by the Society for Human Resources Management
,job market conditions have improved since last year, but large-scale hiring has yet to occur. About one-third of the surveyed human resources professionals in public-and-private sector expressed some level of pessimism about job growth in America during the second quarter of 2010. They reported that companies were increasing the workloads of their current staff rather than hiring new workers and predicted that 73% of hourly service workers and manual laborers would be affected by layoffs planned for the second quarter of 2010. The good news is that fewer of these workers were laid off than had been predicted (about 59% versus the predicted 73%). The bad news is that job growth has been miniscule. Staffing levels at most companies remain flat, and most economists expect the national unemployment rate to remain near 10% throughout 2010.
- In a different survey, 93% of workers who performed additional work on the job said they had not been paid for the additional work they performed. Two serious implications of this report are that workers perceive that employers are exploiting them, and many workers are suffering from a level of work overload that puts their health and safety (and that of consumers) at risk.
- Research also indicates that the working class continues to be more vulnerable to job loss and wage theft than higher-income groups. While even senior executives may be found in unemployment lines these days (see Ulrich Beck’s The Brave New World of Work), research indicates that manual laborers and low-waged service workers are most likely to be found in unemployment lines. Not surprisingly, 6 out of 10 Americans feel less secure about their jobs compared to a year ago.
- Wage growth is at a stand-still. In fact, earnings have actually decreased for many workers who have managed to keep their jobs or find new jobs during the current Great Recession. A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute indicates that the annual household income of the typical working family has declined by more than $2,000, despite the increased productivity of American workers. Additionally, income and wealth inequality has increased over the last decade, according to the EPI report. Between 2000 and 2007, more than half of the income increases went to the wealthiest 1% of U.S. households.
The collapse in wage growth, tremendous income and wealth inequality, and dramatic job loss has meant that the typical American worker now lives a lower standard of living, which may extend well into the future. Confronted with such grim facts, who needs a rainstorm (or a Hurricane Earl) to feel uneasy this Labor Day weekend?
With mid-term elections in November, rain or shine, public officials are likely to keep their scheduled Labor Day appearances. We should demand that candidates answer a few key questions:
- What are you doing to create new jobs? How about an increased investment in job restoration and job creation? How about re-opening closed schools and rehiring downsized teachers? Any plans to re-open closed libraries, restore library hours, and return laid-off library personnel to work? Wouldn’t schools and libraries that are adequately staffed and funded be needed to produce those 8 million more college graduates that the Obama administration says we need in order to compete successfully in the global economy in 2020? Where are those “green jobs” you promised American workers during your last political campaign?
- What are you doing to institute livable wages? What about an increase in the minimum wage? Both these things would decrease the number of working poor in America, don’t you think? What incentives have you given employers to provide child care assistance, especially to low-waged, single mothers? You talked about making the world safe for democracy. Could you add making the workplace safe for workers to the national agenda?
What workers really need this Labor Day are straightforward answers to these questions. Instead of lip service about the importance of their concerns, our leaders should pursue more genuine efforts to resolve the serious issues many face.
Denise Narcisse, Center for Working-Class Studies