There is dignity in work.
Every day, not to miss one day, on time always – ready to go. That was John and Sadie. The Watson’s Manufacturing machine operator and Jamestown High School janitor. As they told it – you go to work, you do your job, and then you come home and take care of your family. Simple rules for a simple life. No problem. Well, sort of. There was never enough money on Allen Street for the family of 5, plus Nana. It’s funny, though… I can’t recall hearing my parents complain. They just did what they could with what they had. Sometimes, they even made wishful offers that would bury them financially, like offering to pay for my college. Back then, there were simple family goals – a roof over your head, enough food to feed the family, a car (a used one would do the job), and sending your kids to college – a college education that would be the gateway to a promising future for the children.
Fast-forward to Labor Day 2017. A job, a nice home, a car, and yes, sending the kids to college or advanced training is still on the list of goals for the American worker. The first names of the generations have changed, but not the simple, honorable goals of workers.
The challenges of the past may not exist, but the challenges of today certainly look as formidable. Today, we ask, “How do we provide jobs for everyone who wants to work and is able to work?” That nice home now costs in multiples that are hard to digest; that $10k – $15k starter home is now $70k – $80k (if you’re lucky). Feeding the family means having a paycheck and a half, just for basic necessities – its $150 – $300 a week just to put food on the table. And college? What happened to everyone being able to afford a college education or advanced training? That is definitely no longer the case, $40k – $50k per year is beyond most working people’s budgets.
So, the challenges are different – sort of. Really, it’s not that the challenges are different; they are the same – just now on different scales.
But, the constant is still work – the way out, the way up. It’s what makes us tick as a people. All of us.
Labor Day 2017 reminds us of all of the basic principles that have served our country well. Work, work ethic, working to support our families – that is what has defined our society. When we forget the role that work plays in our society, we become rudderless, floating through the days, weeks, months, and years.
Work isn’t just important to achieving our financial goals, it is – for better and worse – how we identify who we are. Job loss and serious problems at work are the equivalent of a divorce or death in the family when it comes to emotional and physical stress. Our work lives, or lack of work, affects us deeply.
The lessons of our past and present require that we address the future of work now. Clearly, work is the single factor that defines how well we take care of our family’s needs.
And now, our challenges for the future – do we continue to replace meaningful jobs with technology, artificial intelligence, and part-time transitional employment? Do we, as a society, ignore the huge human cost of the unavailability of heath care at the grass-roots? Do we ignore that wage growth is stagnant?
We need work. Work makes the rest tick – without it, the clock doesn’t work. Meaningful work, available for all, should clearly be our societal goal. We need to do everything and anything to create work opportunities for all. We have the institutional tools – they’ve been in place for decades – but when do the stars align to make these tools develop meaningful job growth? This Labor Day, we must ask who is committed to putting our country back to work? What tools do they intend to use to get the job done? Training, relocation allowances, college education, technological advances for job creation opportunities, tax incentives, government sponsored infrastructure projects, career training from the elementary school level up, and offering more opportunities and skilled training to enable a person to go to work instead of staying home are but a few of the examples.
First, we have to recommit our societal focus to the world of work. That world is what made us who we are individually and as a larger society. Why is that the case?
There is dignity in work.