Labor Day, like most holidays, started in one place in the United States – in this case, New York – and gradually spread until Congress in the late 1890s passed a law making the first Monday in September a legal holiday. Now it’s viewed by many Americans as the end of summer and is in fact the beginning of the school year for students around the country on traditional calendars.
But the struggles of working people in America, most of whom work hard for their families toward the goal of providing their children with broader horizons and bigger dreams than they had themselves, are not just about a holiday. Those struggles are serious, and these days, for many, more challenging than ever.
This Labor Day finds reasons for optimism from national politicians, who tout the millions of jobs created over the last decade since a Great Recession brought the country to the economic brink. The economic policies of President Obama were in large part the reason for the surge, though President Trump is quick to take credit for job increases of the last six months, a jump in the stock market and a lowering of the unemployment rate.
But this Labor Day finds also problems for working Americans, now and in the days ahead. Unemployment is low – but wages for working families are stagnant. And many of those who took a hit during the Great Recession have not fully recovered, having taken jobs that paid less than they had been making with fewer benefits and opportunities for advancement. For so many of those struck with losing their jobs during that recession were at the peak of their working lives and saw many dreams diminished if not disappear.
Some turned, in 2016, to an unlikely hero, Donald Trump. Oh, he promised anything but politics as usual and assured his cheering rallies that he’d bring back jobs from overseas and even would restore jobs lost to progress or automation. Even coal miners would go back to work, Trump said. And that message, combined with his ability to stir up a hatred for liberals and minorities and Hillary Clinton, brought him to victory.
But it hasn’t brought much to working families eight months in to the Trump presidency. Consider the early priority of repealing and replacing Obamacare. The Trump/Republican replacement ideas would have left more than 20 million people without health care, most of them those working people Trump claimed to champion. And there is anxiety about what Republicans might yet do and whether Trump even understands the importance of preserving and making the U.S. health care system more affordable.
There has been little progress on stirring a return to the United States of jobs overseas, and the president’s promises to create jobs with infrastructure projects hasn’t happened.
The minimum wage hasn’t gone anywhere, and Trump seems silent. But he’s promised tax cuts, yes, for the rich and for business.
And so, on this Labor Day, a day when the hard-working Americans who are the backbone, the arms, the legs, the brains and the heart of this country should be celebrating promises kept, they’re working harder than ever, but many are making little progress toward that better life they promised their children, and they wonder when the candidate who promised so much will be the president who delivers.
Make no mistake. America remains a land of opportunity where people with big ideas can realize their dreams. And millions of Americans are indeed living a good life and in the process making their country a good and productive land.
But too many are slipping down the ladder or stuck where they are. They deserve better. They deserve hope. And their country’s leaders should be able to provide it.