My late father was an immigrant who correctly gambled he could use his skills as a mechanic and homebuilder to chase the American Dream. Dad started by making a few dollars an hour. But he did better than most, eventually owning a gas station, a repair shop and a couple of other businesses.
He accomplished all of that thanks to the sort of work ethic we celebrate on Labor Day when we put down our beers and barbecue and try to remember to pay tribute to the contributions workers make to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.
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Labor Day was established more than 100 years ago and a lot has changed about our economy in the decades since, most of it good, but some of it perhaps less so.
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What nags at me is that we live lives today that are so far removed from the historic notion of labor, it seems as if the only place in our culture where we hold workers in any esteem is in pickup truck TV ads.
I mean, the unrelenting vilification of labor unions nowadays feels like it’s become a national pastime. The paychecks workers bring home every week or two offer the clearest evidence of the problem, thanks to wages that have dropped 2.6 percent between 2007 and 2012.
The Great Recession no doubt played a role in that. But life for the average American worker has been getting tougher for a long time. Over the past 30 years or so, college tuition has surged more than 500 percent, medical costs are up 286 percent and the consumer price index has seen a 121 percent gain.
How can we expect families to cope?