How We Should Really Honor Labor Day


August 28, 2014

For many of us who are lucky enough to have full-time jobs and paid holidays, Labor Day usually means a 3-day weekend, one last chance to go to the beach before summer ends, getting the kids ready for the new school year, or a barbeque with friends. In short, a day to not think about work.
The U.S. Department of Labor describes Labor Day a bit differently, though. “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

While a day off might be nice (again, for those workers who get it off AND get paid for it), a much better way to pay tribute to our nation’s workers would be to make sure they have living wages, wage growth, and workplace policies that support and protect them.

The Economic Policy Institute released a report yesterday saying that hourly wages fell for most Americans in the first six months of 2014 compared to last year, after adjusting for inflation. Why America’s Workers Need Faster Wage Growth—And What We Can Do About It notes that wages for the middle class have declined for most of the last 40 years while our economy and productivity has continued to grow, leading to our country’s growing income inequality. EPI also released a wage calculator to show how much a currently salary would be if wages had kept pace with productivity all these years, as well as a video about stagnant wages and the effects they have:

The report also notes that, thanks to recent state minimum wage increases, the only group that didn’t suffer declining wages over the past year was low-wage workers, specifically those at the bottom 10 percent. But Congress still has yet to increase the federal minimum wage, despite overwhelming public support and the fact that it would help 28 million American workers make ends meet. Giving minimum wage workers a raise would also power economic recovery and growth, adding $33 billion in new economic activity (which translates into 85,000 new full-time jobs).

Senators and Representatives are still back in their home districts until September 8. This means there’s still time to get their attention and raise awareness in your community about the need for a minimum wage increase by attending a town hall meeting and asking a question, writing a Letter to the Editor of your local paper, encouraging lawmakers to take the Live the Wage challenge, and tweeting.

There are other issues, of course, that need to be addressed to protect and strengthen our workforce: wage theft, the lack of full employment, paid leave, overtime and scheduling protections, the right to unionize, and many more. This Labor Day, perhaps it’s time we really honored the spirit of the holiday by enacting policies that would give America’s workers things they need much more than just a day off.

Labor and Employment
Labor Day
minimum wage