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Diana Lacey - Laboring for less

Do you have a funny feeling that your paycheck isn't stretching as far these days? If you do, you're not alone.

Labor Day is an occasion for celebrating working people in this country. But sadly, N.H.'s workers are working harder, are more productive and yet aren't making a dime more. In fact, we're all making less. According to a just-released report from Sentier Research, the U.S. median household income is down more than 4 percent since the recession ended. Add that to what we lost during the recession itself, and we're all making 6.1 percent less than we were in 2007.

Especially hard-hit are families in which someone has been unemployed, in part because when they get back to work they're not making as much. One study indicates that jobs in categories that tend to pay low wages account for about six in ten of the new jobs added during the economic recovery. Five of the six fastest-growing jobs are in classifications that pay lower-than-average wages.

There is a special group of workers doing better than they were in 2007 though. CEOs got a 16 percent raise last year alone, according to the consulting firm Equilar. And earlier this week, it was announced that the nation's five biggest banks are on track to pay out at least $23 billion in bonuses this year (perhaps million-dollar paychecks don't go as far as they used to either). Big business is booming again and reporting record profits, but the gap between them and us is larger than ever because prosperity is not being shared broadly — it's intentionally being funneled to the top.

It doesn't have to be this way.

This Labor Day we should ask ourselves why we labor in the first place. For millions of Americans, we don't go to work every day as a labor of love — we go to earn a decent living, feed our families, build and keep a home, save for retirement, contribute to our communities and so much more. We labor for more, not less. No matter who you are, where you're from or what job you do, in this country everyone who works hard should be able to have a decent life. But it is going to take a lot of work — labor of love kind of work — to turn the current situation around. Workers of all stripes will need to raise their collective voices and demand that they share in the prosperity they create through their labor in this country. In the past few years, adjunct professors at the Community College System of New Hampshire and Plymouth State University did just that. They are now standing up and using their voices to bring home more to their families, not less. Their efforts will benefit their communities and the students they teach will learn that they too will need to take action for more, not less.

Why? Because those who possess the wealth and power are, for the most part, unwilling to change its distribution. Their control over the nation's economy has put the American middle class well on its way to extinction. The labor workers contributed generations before us to create the middle class can be taken for granted no longer by the majority of workers in this country. It is beyond time for workers to join forces and have their voices heard on the job, in neighborhoods and at the voting polls. Through working collectively, we can and must create a nation in which everyone can fully participate.

So this Labor Day, I hope you will take on a new labor of love. Making a personal commitment to end this labor for less economy is a good place to start. If you need help in learning more about the next steps to take, call a union member you know or call us.

(Belmont resident Diana Lacey is president of the State Employees' Association of NH/SEIU Local 1984.)

 
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