While everyone is grilling hot dogs, tossing a Frisbee, and knocking back a few cold ones on this Labor Day weekend let’s not forget why this holiday exists – the American worker. Labor Day is “a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
So, how are America’s workers doing? Not very well, it turns out.
By any measure, the U.S. jobs market is not in a good position. No, it’s not the utter catastrophe it was immediately following the recession in 2009-2010 but it is by no means good. We are far from the full employment of the George W. Bush years – remember 4.5 percent unemployment? – and the days of a humming economy seem a distant memory.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the real unemployment rate is a staggering 14 percent. That takes into account those the government counts as currently unemployed, those the government calls the “marginally attached” to the labor force, and those employed part-time for economic reasons.
For the uninitiated, the government only counts someone as unemployed if they’re out of work and have looked for a job in the past four weeks. If not, the feds say you’ve dropped out of the labor force. It’s a nice way to make the number of “unemployed” people look smaller but it offers a distorted picture of how America’s workers are really faring.
America’s workers aren’t faring very well either, despite the government’s best efforts to hide this fact. As of August, the last month BLS published unemployment data, there were 8.2 million American workers who had been forced to take part-time jobs because they couldn’t find full-time work.
That’s 8.2 million workers who probably won’t be doing much celebrating this Labor Day.
BLS also reported in august that there were 6.6 million American workers who had dropped out of the labor force, but needed a job right now. In other words, 6.6 million people need a job but had given up hope of finding one.
The situation isn’t much better for those workers lucky enough to still have jobs.
Median household income has not recovered since the recession. In 2007 median household income was $55,000 per year, in 2013 it’s only $51,000. That’s a significant drop in a statistic that wasn’t getting much better when the economy was operating at full employment. It means that the jobs the economy is creating aren’t good-paying jobs, so those lucky enough to get hired out of the unemployment line are taking lower salaries or reduced wages.
And poor job creation isn’t the only thing hurting the American worker. Obamacare is coming. Sure, some poor workers will get generous insurance subsidies or Medicaid coverage, but at what cost? The law isn’t even implemented and every day there’s a new example of a business that is cutting its health care benefits, like UPS just did.
Other businesses are cutting hours, reducing positions from full- to part-time to escape Obamacare’s crushing employer mandates, like countless businesses have done. Thirdly, the law is already making health insurance more and more expenses. In some states like California or New Jersey, insurance companies are pulling their products, denying affordable insurance to potentially millions of American workers already struggling in this stagnant economy.
America used to be a place where an honest day’s work earned an honest living. Sadly, that is no longer the case for millions of American workers. This Labor Day, we should all remember those workers who aren’t working, who’ve given up, lost their insurance or their hours. This is supposed to be their day, a day to celebrate their contributions to America. Instead, it’s a day of mourning.
Matt Cover is Content Editor at Rare. Follow him on Twitter @MattCover.