Low-key Labor Day celebration

August 30, 2012

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The workweek is winding down, and the Labor Day Weekend is upon us. As I thought about what my family might do to “celebrate,” it occurred to me that I don’t really feel all that inclined to celebrate. Yes, I’m grateful to have the day off to relax and maybe catch up on some much-needed yard work, but I’m mindful of the millions of Americans whose Labor Day will be, at best, like any other jobless day, and perhaps worse as they watch the employed among them fire up the grills and participate in other festivities, such as parades featuring smoke-blowing politicians.

It’s difficult to put an exact number on just how many of our citizens are out of work. We have the “official” unemployment numbers that don’t take into account the number of workers who’ve given up looking. And we have the underemployed—those who are working at jobs that are below their skill levels and don’t pay enough, let alone provide benefits.

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics report for the month of July, both the number of unemployed persons (12.8 million) and the unemployment rate (8.3 percent) were essentially unchanged, and both measures have shown little movement thus far in 2012. I’m not an economist, but personal observation and news reports I’ve read lead me to believe that August won’t fare much better.

Four months ago, John Giokaris wrote an article on policymic.com that had some disturbing statistics. While noting that the official unemployment rate at that time was 8.1 percent—the so-called U-3—and that this number excludes the millions who have either dropped out of the labor force altogether, or can’t find full-time work, Giokaris said that a broader measure that accounts for these points, the U-6, was at 14.5 percent.

In July 2012, it was 15.0 percent.

As disturbing as these percentages are, I found the following statement in the 4-month-old article to be much more illustrative of the employment situation: “The labor force participation rate, which measures the share of working-age people currently working, has sunk to 64.3 percent—the lowest since 1981.”

In July 2012, it was 63.7 percent.

No doubt some of the smoke-blowing politicians will focus on the fact that almost two-thirds of working-age people are employed; things are bad, but not as bad as they could be. Try telling that to any of those in the 36.3 percent who may still be looking, or to the many baby boomers who would love to retire and free up jobs for others, but can’t because their investments have tanked.

Regardless of who’s to blame—and I’m so sick of hearing blame-throwing and bashing from both parties—we’re in a bad place. On this Labor Day, I think I’ll listen with considerable skepticism to what the presidential candidates have to say about jobs and put very little faith in their comments and their abilities to deliver. (Set your expectations low enough and you can't be disappointed.) The job they aspire to isn’t easy, and that group on the Hill makes it even harder.

As for celebrating Labor Day, I think I’ll put on the closest thing I have to Hush Puppies® , sit back, and listen to a little Jimmy Buffet. A low-keyed celebration if there ever was one.

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Vicki Bell

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