Kirsten Mustain

Happy Labor Day

This weekend visitors and residents will flock to the lake for one last water-borne fling before autumn’s inevitable chill sets in.

Many Americans think of Labor Day as an extra day off. Still others think of it as just another work day – perhaps busier than most.

When I worked in retail, for instance, I dreaded Labor Day because of the hundreds of extra shoppers I knew would crowd the store and the longer hours I would work to accommodate them.

The first Labor Day was celebrated in the United States on September 5, 1882 in New York City.

 It was made a national holiday in 1894 as a conciliatory gesture by President Grover Cleveland and Congress after the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals killed a number of workers during the Pullman Strike.

Back then laborers were fighting for things like weekends off, eight-hour shifts (as opposed to ten or 12), safe working conditions and the abolition of child labor, as well as the ever-elusive living wage.

It has been more than 100 years now since workers died at the hands of the federal government fighting for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In many ways, we are much better off in 2009.

There can be no doubt that laborers today have a much better deal than they did 100 years ago.

It’s been almost 50 years since our nation has seen that kind of violence between its citizens.

Children are no longer forced to slave for 12 hours shifts in factories where they are likely to lose life and limb.

Lots of people get weekends off.

However . . .

Many people still work very hard without earning, in return, enough money to pay their bills and feed their children. In fact, according to statistics, the number of “working poor” in this country is on the rise.

Wall Street is starting to see a rebound from the United States’ recent financial meltdown, but lots of Americans aren’t particularly interested in Wall Street. They are interested in their own finances, which were suffering before the stock market crashed.

According to a report by the Associated Press, “The number of jobs with pay below the poverty threshold increased to 29.4 million, or 22 percent of all jobs, in 2006 from 24.7 million, or 19 percent of all jobs, in 2002.”

During that time, America was experiencing economic growth and prosperity. This increase in national poverty is not, then, merely a sign of difficult economic times.

A lot of the shrinking power of the American wage has to do with the fact that salaries are not increasing with the cost of living. Lots of jobs that paid above the poverty line in 2002 simply maintained the same rate of pay while milk, bread, gas, electricity and soda pop all got more expensive.

In Oklahoma statistics indicate that over 33 percent of working families are living below the poverty level. These are not people who collect welfare and spend their days drinking beer in lawn chairs or manufacturing meth. These are people who work an average of 2,552 hours a year – the equivalent of one and one-quarter full time jobs. Many of these people are high school graduates, and some of them even have college degrees.

Growing up I was led to believe that people who worked hard were rewarded with financial success.

Now I realize that isn’t necessarily true.

Lots of people are making money in American, but they aren’t always the people who are working the hardest. In many cases they are paying the people who are doing the work that makes their profit wages that will not cover the expense of basic necessities.

America is still the land of opportunity, and lots of people, if they apply themselves in the right way, can surely still find success in this country.

However, when good honest laborers are treated with such disregard, everyone who works hard will not find financial reward. As poverty increases, fewer and fewer people will attain that cute little house with the white picket fence that epitomizes the “American dream.”

This Labor Day is forecast to be a bit cooler than normal, but I doubt it will keep enthusiastic boaters and partiers from having a wonderful weekend.

It is my wish that everyone will take time out this Monday to give thanks for this country and consider the work force that keeps it strong.