Labor Day conjures up images of a grill covered with hot dogs and hamburgers, road trips to visit friends and family, and empty classrooms and offices. Yet, Labor Day is more important than a day to relax and celebrate: it is a celebration of the American worker. The Department of Labor’s website describes Labor Day as, “a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
The American worker has always endured when times were tough. Since the first Labor Day was celebrated in 1887, the American worker has been confronted with major obstacles. The Great Depression dealt a crushing blow to the American worker in 1929. Prospects were bleak and many were struggling. Images of hungry, out-of-work Americans standing in bread lines are emblazoned into our national consciousness. Yet, the American worker endured and was instrumental in pulling the nation out from economic despair.
During World War II, when an increasing number of young men were being called to Europe and the Pacific, the United States began to include more women in the workforce. As many as 6 million ‘Rosie the Riveters’ pulled together and set the stage for a postwar boom. In the decade following World War II, the American worker produced more goods than all other workers across the globe combined. Today, the American worker contributes to the largest economy in the world.
While things seem to be improving for the American Worker, they are certainly not perfect. By one estimate, outsourcing to China cost the United States 3.2 million jobs between 2001 and 2013. Approximately 75% of those lost jobs were in the manufacturing sector. Manufacturing, while shrinking, remains vitally important to the economy; it accounts for nearly 11 million jobs and is the fourth largest employer in the United States, according to the 2012 US Census Bureau. The auto industry is particularly important to the manufacturing sector. Historically, the auto industry constitutes 3 – 3.5 percent of the overall Gross Domestic Product and employs more than 1.7 million American workers.
The New York Times reports that the trade deficit stood at approximately $41.8 billion in July. There is cause for optimism, however. A movement across the country is calling for more products made in America by American workers. A Consumer Reports study found that 8 out of 10 consumers would prefer to purchase an American-made product, and 6 out of 10 would pay more for that product. Across the country there is a call to bring jobs, especially manufacturing jobs, back to the United States.
The Labor Day holiday provides the perfect opportunity to celebrate the triumphs of the American worker, as well reflect on the work to be done. Whether you’re staying home and hosting a BBQ this weekend, or traveling to someone else’s, raise your glass and toast the American worker, the backbone of America.