Remember when there was dignity in work? As I pause to reflect upon this Labor Day, I cannot help but recall our former first lady, Michelle Obama vividly describing the pride her father, Fraser Robinson, III took in rising early to work late. Proud of the opportunity to use his hands as a filtration technician at a City of Chicago water services plant, Mr. Robinson’s hands produced a labor of love. Mrs. Obama talks often about her gaining a great deal of appreciation for her father’s work ethic as he demonstrated that one does what is necessary to provide a quality life for the greatest gift that God gives to humanity, and that is family.
Her father’s hands coupled with the hands of her mother; Marian Lois Robinson labored hard to raise two children on Chicago’s southside. Both children receiving Ivy league scholarships would go on to careers that included top law firms, corporation counsel, collegiate coaching, NBA executive, and the First Lady of the United States of America. Laboring hands accomplished that feat. Mrs. Obama would go on to explain that her respect for her father’s laboring hands moved beyond mere appreciation to an almost idolization of proletariat practice as she watched her father’s laboring hands — which were severely troubled by multiple sclerosis — struggle to button his uniform shirt on those cold early Chicago mornings. The Robinsons demonstrated a labor of love for their children.
Offering a labor of love heightens the dignity that one feels as they work to contribute to the American workforce. There was a time when you would ask someone, “Do you have to go to work tomorrow?” The answer is formed as a corrective statement, “No! I get to go to work tomorrow.” Wow! The times, they are a-changing.
It was a labor of love that compelled Matthew Maguire, secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, New Jersey to propose a holiday to celebrate the contributions of the American worker in 1882 while he was serving as the secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York City. Twelve years after the first observance, on June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed into law that the first Monday in September will be the annual observance of Labor Day.
As we think about American laborers, one would be hard-pressed to ignore President Donald J. Trump’s comments about his administration’s contributions to the American economy. In doing so, Mr. Trump’s job growth commentary has moved from claiming that he — in three years — has accomplished more than any other President, including all the two-termers, to a more messianic narcissism that claims, “I’m the chosen one.” Well, to quote the old church mother, “Let’s tell the truth and shame the devil.” Mr. Trump claims that he is the sole reason that African America unemployment is 6%, which is truly the lowest reading among data that goes all the way back to 1972. The fact is that under the Obama Administration, the overall national unemployment rate dropped from 10% to 4.7%. Also, under Obama, African American unemployment dropped from around 17% to 7.7% by Trump’s inauguration. Thus, the economic data proves that Mr. Trump has been riding a wave the was started by his predecessor.
Job growth under Mr. Trump at a monthly average of 183,500 is slower than the Obama Administration’s second term average of 208,000 jobs per month. To his credit manufacturing jobs are up under Mr. Trump. His administration has added 496,000 new manufacturing jobs and there is an 8% increase in line worker compensation, which is parallel to Mr. Obama’s second term.
There is; however, a glaring injustice to note on this Labor Day, one which sticks out in 4D like a log protruding from one’s eye is the issue of the minimum wage. Today the low wage worker takes home an hourly wage of $7.25 per hour. Pound for pound the current national minimum wage is 40% lower than it was in 1970. In his rhetorical journey to make “America Great Again,” there is no current agenda or TWEET to address it. Should President Trump accept the proposal put forth by the Democratic Party to raise the national minimum wage to $15.00 per hour, more than 33 million Americans would receive an immediate pay hike that will greatly improve the quality of life of America’s low wage labor force.
As we conclude this Labor Day week, the fact remains that American workers will neither have access to Mr. Trump’s inheritance from Poppa Fred Trump, nor the greater than $400 million in his tax-curated gifts. Our greatest investment must return to employment infrastructure. We need a healthy and growing workforce, more so than we need to be waiting with bated breath on a Star Wars sounding, George Lucas-Esque Space Force. Let’s return our focus to Earth with a resurgence of dignity for the people whose weary feet and sore hands work to build upon our land the mosaic that is America. As American workers join in a collective chorus to magnify their dignified mantra that, “We produce American Made,” we can hear a labor of love.