A holiday to celebrate workers

September 1, 2013 

Like that old gray mare, Labor Day ain’t what it used to be. These days, many businesses wouldn’t think of giving up a day of revenue or at least a chance at it in order to give workers a day off. And for those in retail, it’s a sale day, so all hands are on deck. But for many, we hope, there will at least be a little time off, or perhaps a compassionate nod with an early check-out from employers. Then it will be time for one of the dwindling opportunities to cook out, as Labor Day has come to symbolize for many the end of summer. Here in North Carolina, it’s one of the few last beach trips of the year, though we’ll have steamy days until October.

Though different people take credit for it, Labor Day began thanks to the efforts of labor unions in the late 19th century. It evolved, as holidays tend to do, from a celebration recognized by individual states to a final recognition by Congress.

The idea was to celebrate working people and to give many a break from their ... labors.

So, yes, let’s hope that many in our state will have that breather and will be appreciated by the families for whom they deliver a living.

Unfortunately, this has been a tough year – and for many, only the latest in a series of tough years – for some working folks, in particular those who after years of hard, steady work find themselves victims of the Great Recession. Adding to their woes has been the decision by Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly to let North Carolina be the only state to cut federal unemployment benefits for tens of thousands of our neighbors.

It was a sad and potentially tragic day for many.

Our school teachers, who work miracles with youngsters every day, continue to be poorly compensated and find themselves dropping in national rankings, again something that’s the responsibility of GOP legislators. Many teachers will spend today working on lesson plans for the new school year.

And so for some among us, the hills are steeper than ever as they work harder for less. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that North Carolina’s household median income dropped more than 10 percent between 2000 and 2010. The state’s unemployment rate remains near 9 percent, one of the highest in the country.

Calling this a holiday is a tough sell for many thousands of our citizens.

But North Carolinians are a proud people, evidenced by the fact that even when some were out of a job and in areas of the state where new work was scarce, enrollment in community colleges for the purpose of job training was up, way up. Many were rejecting hopelessness and pounding the pavement in job searches.

Others have taken jobs that are lesser in terms of compensation than what they had, but they keep the faith that a better time is coming. Entire families are pulling together, tired but confident that better days are ahead.

Perhaps that’s the thought for this Labor Day ... to keep the faith that next year and the year after and the years after that will produce answered prayers. Maybe we can find a reason to fire up the grill and invite the in-laws after all.

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