To be sure, a multitude of challenges confronts labor in the United States on today’s holiday dedicated to the contributions of the American worker.
Economic disparities and wage gaps remain wide in the U.S. workforce, as tens of thousands of demonstrators highlighted in recent marches on Washington to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the nation-altering march in the nation’s capital led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Organized labor has seen its ranks nearly cut in half over the past 30 years. In 1983, 20.1 percent of the American workforce was unionized; today that rate is 11.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Union-management tensions continue to sizzle. Here in the Mahoning Valley, hundreds of Youngstown City Schools teachers and Northside Medical Center nurses remain embroiled in disputes with their employers. Community- damaging strikes could loom on the horizon.
We’ll reserve any commentary on these and other critical labor issues of the day for another day. Today, however, is set aside to celebrate the American workforce. To be sure, there is much to celebrate.
PRODUCTIVITY UP, JOBLESSNESS DOWN
The productivity of the American worker is growing by leaps and bounds. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity, determined by dividing the real output of goods and services by the number of hours worked, continues to increase markedly. The U.S. Economic Policy Institute reports that the average hourly employee’s productivity increased 80 percent between 1973 and 2011. And latest data from the U.S. Department of Labor show that spiral is continuing with manufacturing productivity increasing nearly 3 percent in the second quarter of 2013 alone.
Unemployment in America and the Mahoning Valley continues to tumble. The U.S. unemployment rate has dropped from 10 percent in 2009 to 7.4 percent in July 2013. In the Mahoning Valley, the jobless rate has sunk nearly 5 full percentage points, from 13.2 percent in November 2009 to 8.4 percent in July 2013. More than 4,000 jobs have been created here since the depths of the Great Recession.
Unquestionably, the Valley’s economy has seen some bright spots this year, with major manufacturers opening new facilities or expanding, small retailers opening their doors throughout the region and oil and gas drilling continuing at a steady pace. What’s more the housing market is improving and sales of the Lordstown-produced Chevrolet continue to zoom toward record highs. The Valley, too, is gaining international recognition as a hot spot for the up-and-coming high-tech sector of additive manufacturing. Our region’s workforce has become increasingly more diversified than the days when the fortunes of Youngstown area residents rested far too heavily on the fortunes of the steel industry.
American workers this Labor Day can also celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the U.S. Department of Labor. President William Howard Taft of Ohio signed legislation in 1913 creating that Cabinet-level department that gave the interests of U.S. workers a seat at the table in the highest echelons of presidential policy-setting and decision-making.
It’s also been 119 years since Congress recognized the positive impact of American workers by setting aside the first Monday of every year as an official legal holiday. Then, as now, Labor Day serves as an annual national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
And even though challenges and struggles abound today over many critical labor quandaries facing our country and our Valley, one must never lose sight of the value of America’s enduring and robust work ethic that has forged our nation into the global powerhouse it remains today.