It’s Labor Day weekend, and if you’re a regular reader of opinion pages, you have a good idea what’s coming, yes? It’s practically a rite of late summer, the Labor Day Editorial. You probably know how it goes.
First, there’s some history (with a little guilt on the side). We tell you that Labor Day came about not as a day of rest from work but to protest miserable working conditions. We remind you that in the late 1800s, the average American worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, and children as young as age 5 worked in mills and mines. Discontent with those conditions led to demonstrations, many of them bloody, and one in particular that resonates: The first “Labor Day” parade in 1882, when more than 10,000 workers poured into the streets of New York City on the first Monday in September.
Twelve years later, Congress would make that a federal holiday: Labor Day.
This is where the Labor Day Editorial suggests it’s a good time to acknowledge what we should all year long — that American workers continue to struggle with the burden of low-paying, unstable jobs. We back that up with some stats, usually provided by advocacy groups this time of year, showing that some workers continue to experience a shortage of jobs, or that while the productivity of the American worker has increased 77 percent in the past 45 years, hourly pay has increased only 12 percent. (Yes, that’s a real stat from the Economic Policy Institute.)
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But wait, you say: Isn’t this year different? Isn’t the economy booming under President Donald Trump? Didn’t the Republican tax cut free up corporate America to create more and better paying jobs for those workers?
Yes, but no. It’s true that the Republican tax bill has been a windfall for corporations and the wealthy. And yes, wages have increased slightly in the months since, but those increases are in line with inflation. Real wages are actually stagnant, and even some Republicans have admitted that there’s no evidence that tax cut money has been helping the American worker.
Meanwhile, closer to home, there continues to be two North Carolinas — one prospering and one laboring in jobs that hardly pay a liveable wage. Here, as in places across the country, tax cuts also have led to an inattentiveness to infrastructure that hits the already struggling hardest. In its 2018 report on the State of Working North Carolina, the N.C. Justice Center noted that a “lack of revenue and failure to invest in public works is resulting in erosion in many of the quality of life measures in North Carolina.” Those range from crumbling schools to lack of connectivity in roads and transportation, to a continuing lack of access for some to affordable health care.
Have you heard this before? Yes. The American worker is falling further behind, here and across the country. The president’s solution for that? Another corporate tax cut.
It’s not working. We won’t stop saying so. You shouldn’t stop caring. The American worker, still among this country’s most valuable asset, deserves better.