Workers throughout the country will enjoy a well-deserved break tomorrow from the daily ground of their jobs.
Labor Day was established as a time to reflect on the contributions of all of us who produce the goods and provide the services that keep our society running. It also has become the unofficial end of summer and what better way to wrap up this season than by grilling some burgers and spending time with family and friends on an extended weekend?
The news for American workers, however, is not all good. Job growth in many parts of the nation remains sluggish, and buying power continues to diminish.
Median wages in New York State dropped nearly 7 percent for men and about 1 percent for women since 2003, according to a newly issued report by the Fiscal Policy Institute. The report calls the past 10 years a lost decade; while the state recovered jobs lost during the recession of 2008, most of the growth has been in lower-paying industries, the report said.
The median wage in 2012 dropped to about $16 an hour for women and about $19 an hour for men in New York State, according to the report. The number of jobs for home health care workers rose by about 42,000 last year with an average pay of about $28,000, the report said. Conversely, the construction trades lost about 12 percent of their workforce in 2012, with an average pay of about $62,000.
The New York State Labor Department recently issued unemployment statistics for July. Over the past year, the states private sector added 129,300 jobs. The unemployment rate for New York was listed at 7.6 percent in July 2013, down from 8.9 percent in July 2012.
The unemployment rate in St. Lawrence County dropped from 11 percent in July 2012 to 9.3 percent last month. Any decrease here is welcome news, but its tempered by the fact that St. Lawrence County still has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the state. The unemployment rate in Jefferson County dropped from 9.5 percent in July 2012 to 8.5 percent last month, and in Lewis County the decrease was from 9.2 percent in July 2012 to 8.4 last month.
Nationwide, people who work at fast-food establishments have been demonstrating for better wages. With plans to stage walkouts Thursday, they want their companies to increase their pay to about $15 per hour, more than double the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and just about median wage for New York State women.
Fast-food establishments used to be the domain of teenagers who were cutting their teeth in the workforce. The lower salaries were less objectionable because most workers didnt need to support families on these wages.
But thats not the case today, and the plight of many adults compelled to work for such meager wages is heart-wrenching. They deserve to have their voices heard, but its not likely to change much. As long as job growth remains stuck, theres little incentive for employers to raise wages.
Elected officials and community leaders must focus on drafting policies to create more jobs. This is the critical task we face today, and the stability and security of our society depend on it.
When there is a much greater demand for more workers, companies will need to sweeten the deals theyre offering to potential employees. Only when this happens will the higher-paying jobs return.
So we should all have fun on our day off tomorrow and celebrate the end of another summer. But we also must concentrate on how to stir job growth in this stagnant economy if future summers are to look brighter.