On Monday, the nation took pause and celebrated Labor Day. Though some still had to go about their normal routines, many had the day off, time they took to soak up one more sunny day before the summer ended, or to travel back home from one last weekend at the beach.
To many, Labor Day is summer’s last gasp, but the true meaning of the holiday lies in the celebration and commemoration of the social and economic milestones achieved by American laborers.
According to the United States Department of Labor’s website, Labor Day is “…a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.”
The first Labor Day was celebrated in New York in 1882. But today, 130 years later, Labor Day seems like a bleak occasion.
The national unemployment rate is hanging in at 8.3 percent, which translates to roughly 12.8 million Americans who are without jobs. Forty percent of those people, about 5.2 million, have been unemployed for more than six months.
Locally, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 10.8 percent, which means about 60,000 Rhode Islanders would have had Monday off regardless of the national holiday. In such humbling times, it seems ironic to “celebrate” Labor Day.
Instead, we as a nation should take the time to reflect on the true roots of the holiday. Again, the U.S. Department of Labor’s website outlines the reason for the creation of such a holiday:
“The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals and economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom and leadership – the American worker.”
With election season fast approaching, we’ve heard the words “job creation” ad nauseum. But really, is there a better way to celebrate the American worker than to let them do just what it is we’re celebrating them for?
Although it’s usually a day marked with outdoor fun and a last salute to summer, this year, Labor Day is certainly not a time to rejoice. Instead, let it serve as a reminder that what we thought 130 years ago still rings true today: putting Americans to work is what made, and will continue to make, our country great.