September 2, 2019 is the 125th year that Labor Day has been celebrated as a national holiday. This Labor Day, people all around the US will enjoy a day off and appreciate the end of summer. They will spend time with family and friends, host barbecues, and take advantage of Labor Day sales. But as we celebrate this holiday, we must remember the legacy of Labor Day and recognize that we still have a long way to go to fully support workers in this country.
In the late 1800s, American workers began organizing to protest unsafe working conditions, extremely long hours, child labor, and low wages. In September 1882, the first Labor Day march was held in New York City, and in 1894, Congress made Labor Day a federal holiday. Over time, American workers have secured 8-hour workdays, child labor laws, workplace safety laws, and a federal minimum wage. But there is still much more to be done.
Today, our economy doesn’t work for many American workers, but it certainly works for the rich. The income of the top 1% is going up, but the wages of many low-wage and middle class workers are not. The federal minimum wage has not been increased in a decade. The Trump administration’s economic policy has left behind many workers as it gives more and more power and money to the rich.
Wage growth over the last five years has been weak and uneven. Racial and gender wage gaps have gotten wider than they were in the 1990s, even among college graduates. Although unemployment levels are low, many people are stuck working two or three jobs just to make enough money they need to survive.
With a federal minimum wage of just $7.25 an hour, it’s no wonder low-wage workers can barely get by. The current federal minimum wage is too little to survive on in today’s world, much less in 2009, the last time it was increased. Due to inflation, the real value of the federal minimum wage has dropped 17% since 2009, so workers have less money to spend on rent, food, clothes, and other necessities. This doesn’t just hurt minimum wage workers, it hurts other low-wage workers as well. With such a low wage-floor, even workers earning more than the minimum wage make less than they deserve for the work that they do.
While celebrating Labor Day this September, we must remember that this holiday is about honoring \ workers. They’re the backbone of America, and the government needs to support them. Policymakers must make broadly shared wage growth a priority. Congress has to raise the minimum wage and stop passing tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the rich.
All workers should have the chance to achieve greater economic opportunity and faster wage growth. America was once known as the Land of Opportunity because it gave working people a chance to succeed. It is time to reclaim that title and celebrate workers again. It’s time to give the American people a raise.