OPINION – Labor Day should really be Labor Week.
Look, although we have a much sharper contrast in what constitutes labor these days – there are those who toil with their hands, building houses, fixing our cars, doing all the physical stuff and those who are parked in front of a computer keyboard from dawn to dusk – I think the whole thing has gone over the edge.
That’s why it might take many of us more than a day to celebrate our contributions to the workforce, let alone our gratitude for simply being employed.
Seriously, I don’t know any working man or woman these days who works what we used to refer to as a “normal” work week.
It used to be 40 hours and done.
Overtime pay was a rarity back in the sparser ‘50s when Ozzie always had enough time to change into a nice shirt, tie and sweater and spend time with David and Ricky before dinnertime while Harriet scurried about the kitchen preparing the meal.
Although Dad wore jeans and a T-shirt to work – he swung a hammer his entire life – I can remember he, too, would hit the shower as soon as he came home from work, change into something more comfortable and we’d head outside for a game of catch until it was time to eat.
There is no doubt in my mind about how hard he worked – sometimes taking on second jobs to make sure ends met a little more comfortably and ensure our “Happy Days” existence.
I don’t really know anybody in the workforce who isn’t married to their job.
If you work with your hands, there is a good chance your hours have been extended to offer your services at more customer-friendly hours. If you do office work, there’s a good chance that you are glued to that computer from the first cup of coffee in the morning until the time when you close your eyes at night, gulping down breakfast, lunch and dinner while taking care of business.
Sadly, we are getting less bang for our buck.
Look back at the numbers from the 1950s and compare them with today.
The raw numbers, of course, are staggering.
Average annual family income in 1950 was $3,300 ($33,073 in 2016 dollars); a new car was about $1,500 ($15,133 in 2016 dollars) and the median price for a home was $7,354 ($73,703 in 2016 dollars.)
Today’s family median income is $51,017, the median cost for a new car is $31,252 and the median house price is $188,900. (Figures via MyBudget360.com.)
It is folly to compare and contrast inflation rates between administrations because we have been on a steady incline since 1950. But, if you must apply a yardstick, the ‘70s and ‘80s held disproportional leaps in inflation, which means even though there were lesser increases afterward, they did not diminish the budget pain of the middle class.
Housing takes a huge bite out of our incomes today.
So does education. In 1950, college tuition cost about 18 percent of a family’s annual income. Now it chews up 79 percent, which is why so many young men and women are consumed with loan debt the minute they are handed their diplomas.
Health care is also swallowing up large amounts of our cash.
In fact, medical expense is the most common reason for bankruptcies today, even with 78 percent of the population covered by some form of health insurance.
Meanwhile, nine weeks out from the election, we’re quibbling about stupid stuff like a wall along the border and emails.
The debate schedule and moderators have been announced, but there is more discussion about who will – or, in this case, who will not – be a moderator rather than what will and will not be addressed during those debates.
This great American dream thing collapsed a long time ago as we waited for the profits gleaned by corporate America to trickle down to those upon whose backs those profits were hard-earned.
All we’re left with is working ungodly hours for wages that simply do not keep up with the cost of living.
There is no plausible reason why the entry-level worker cannot afford a rental on minimum wage.
There is no conscionable reason why families have to declare bankruptcy because of ill health.
There is no acceptable reason why homeownership, once the highlight of the American dream, should be so difficult these days.
But, instead, we’ll hear playground taunts and see political posturing when these candidates go before the voting public.
And, the killer in all of this is that Congress, the real culprits who allowed this to occur, will pretty well manage to hide in the shadows while Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump slug it out on the national stage.
We will hear a lot about the government’s deficit in these final days before the election, but not a word about how the inflation we have experienced the last half-century has forced us to live well beyond our individual means, drowning us in our own personal deficit pool.
Meanwhile, you and I will try to rub a few nickels together in hopes that they will grow into something more substantial.
I hope Labor Day weekend was fun.
I hope you got a chance to prop your feet up and catch a breath.
God knows you’ve earned it.
But, I also hope that someday soon, all of those hours you put in at the job, all those headaches, muscle aches, all the grief and pain, begin to pay off the way we were promised long ago; that somehow, we can be comfortable in our lives and not worry about the growing cost of a roof over our heads and food on the table, taking care of our illnesses and educating our young.
In the real world, those are the things that truly matter.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
Read more: St. George News series “What’s in a job”
Labor Day invites us to give “tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country,” according to the Labor Department.
St. George News and Cedar City News bring this “What’s in a job” series of stories over Labor Day weekend to recognize workers whose contributions may go unnoticed, who may be less visible to the general public than others and to unpack some of what goes into everyday jobs performed by everyday people in our communities. Work is a good thing. We honor it and those who do it.
Other stories in the series:
- What’s in a job: Crossing guard learns the secret to safer streets
- What’s in a job: Jazzy crew’s secret ingredient to the hotspot
- What’s in a job: 1 man keeps 21 radio stations on the air for you
- What’s in a job: Farmer at heart keeps the fruit rolling in
- What’s in a job: The house that Ray built
- What’s in a job: From county queen to fairy godmother and Prince Charming
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.