Another Labor Day holiday is past, another year of bill-paying anxiety is ahead for many hard-working families. We can’t fix an out-of-whack economic world with words, but we can at least acknowledge hardship. It is so easy after this holiday to pretend that all is mostly well.
The Royals remain well ahead in first place in their division despite a losing streak and a superstar pitcher acquired in a trade that keeps getting beat. The Chiefs are undefeated, since the season hasn’t opened, so optimism is free flowing. Missouri’s football Tigers managed to avoid upset on Saturday by a small-college team.
Turn the television on digital life is ever optimistic, especially in the advertising.
Platte County nestles in the middle of the most powerful nation on earth. We are geographically and culturally isolated from much that troubles the world. Or at least we’re shielded from many troubles that make news on droning cable TV channels.
But economically we are interwoven with the nation and the world.
Thus a New York Times story caught my eye at holiday time. Stagnant wages for working people, white collar and blue collar, are a major drag on the economy.
Those are general words.
If you’re a person sweating out keeping cars running, making home buying or rental payments, and ogling ever higher prices for the good stuff in the grocery store, the issues become very specific and real.
A study recently released by the National Employment Law Project found that median wages for all occupations, when inflation is taken into account, fell 4 percent from 2009 to 2014. Note that the data is for all job types. For jobs such as cooks, the wage buying power fell as much as 9 percent.
And this is a fast food nation.
Government regulation won’t fix this issue. Rather, this is a matter for society’s attitude toward fairness. Society is an accumulation of individuals. Fairness is sometimes elusive in a world where touchdowns are celebrated as a community more than kindness.
Unemployment rates have fallen, but working folks know pay raises are rare, and if granted, insignificant. Unfairness recurs in human history.
In U.S. history, the rise of industrialism led to abuses of factory workers, child labor, horrible mine conditions. Women have long battled for opportunity and equality in the work place, a struggle that continues.
Labor unions and legislation helped matters. We do have progress on many fronts.
But I think our parents’ and grandparents’ generations did a better job as a society at fairness. They were not too far removed from a pioneer generation that knew hard physical labor.
Hard work sobers a person about fairness.
Then they went through a Great Depression when people suffered greatly. Their news was then punctuated by World War II with incredible hardship and horror. Finally, after the bump known as the Korean War, the late 1950s brought a huge economic wave for them to surf upon. They shared the wave.
I suppose it was somewhat easier to be generous when dollars are pulsing through the system at levels your generation has never seen before.
However, I think people who have known hard times and difficult things are more prone to fairness. The generations that followed let greed outmuscle fairness. A bohemian, less materialistic counter culture movement got a lot of publicity in the 1960s. They and their cultural descendants remain with us.
But mainstream culture is far more powerful. Greed has trumped fairness.
Labor Day on Monday provided a welcome day of extra rest for some, but for many, it was another long work day for low wages in an economic system based on unsustainable patterns and people letting someone else take responsibility for fairness.
Hope does a lot for a society and its economy, but we must have a heart for economic fairness or hope will seem pale each year as Labor Day week arrives, even here in America’s heartland.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.