This is Labor Day Weekend, so let’s take stock in the status of labor in America today.
In the last half century, unionization has dropped from nearly a third of the population to barely more than a tenth. In the private sector, only about one twentieth of the labor force is unionized.
In November 2014, the CIA published a report surveying the level of income equality in 141 nations. The United States lagged behind 70% of the nations surveyed, including all of Europe and the vast majority of Asia.
Average hourly earnings adjusted for inflation have been completely stagnant over the past half century. Since 1974, when I was entering high school, such earnings have dropped substantially (well over 10%) and the minimum wage has failed to keep up with inflation. According to a 2014 Pew poll, 73% of Americans – including a majority of Republicans as well as Democrats -- support an increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 to 10.10 per hour, but there is no consensus among our national leaders as to whether the minimum wage should increase and, if so, by how much.
It’s sobering data, if you ask me. But what is even more sobering is that here we are in the middle of a Presidential election campaign and none of these issues has captivated the interest of the media or the American public. I must have received 30 e-mails in the past week regarding the Iran peace deal, but I don’t recall receiving a single e-mail in the past month regarding the plight of the American worker.
On Memorial Day, we think about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This being Labor Day, perhaps we should build a Tomb of the Unknown Worker. And in that symbolic tomb, we can place the names and faces of the tens of millions of American workers who are either out of a job altogether or whose work could aptly be called a “dead end” opportunity – while a tiny percentage of the labor force gets richer and richer every year.
So here’s to all the hardworking men and women who flip hamburgers, bag groceries, haul garbage, paint houses, operate machines, or bind books. This weekend more than any other, we are duty bound to reflect upon and celebrate their efforts. But when the weekend is over, after those of us in white collar jobs have had our “day off” to luxuriate in their names, what do you say we dedicate some time to addressing some of the issues raised at the top of this post? Personally, I’ve had just about enough with living in a bottom-dwelling society when it comes to income equality. Trickle down hasn’t worked. Now is the time to start talking about the alternatives.