Labor Day is an opportunity to celebrate the vital, incredible contributions Minnesota’s working people make every day to their workplaces, to the economy, to their families and to our communities. It is the one day of each year we collectively tip our cap to the working men and women who continue to build this nation through sweat, sacrifice and innovation.
And there is much to celebrate! American workers have proven again and again that they comprise the best, most productive workforce in the world. That’s not lip service, either. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the productivity of the U.S. economy grew by 80 percent from 1979 to 2009, continuing a post-World War II trend that has made our economy the envy of the world.
Americans are working longer hours, taking on multiple jobs and producing more goods and services than ever before. But as vital as American workers have been to the productivity of our economy, is the economy working for American workers?
Sadly, most Americans see the answer to that question every time they open a paycheck. Simply put, the wages of middle class workers have not kept up with their productivity – not by a long shot. Hourly compensation for the typical American worker grew by only 10.1 percent from 1979 to 2009, and the Great Recession has only made things worse.
So what happened to the profits created by American workers’ increased productivity? Where did all that money go? The top 1 percent of earners has grabbed nearly 60 percent of the income gains over the last 30 years. That’s right: You earned it, but the 1 percent is keeping it.
We know this is not the way to grow an economy that works for everyone. When wages are stagnant – as they have been for 30 years – the buying power of the middle class takes a big hit. That’s why raising wages and restoring middle class buying power aren’t luxuries that can be postponed until the economy gets better. They are the only way to make our economy better.
This Labor Day, let’s recommit to growing our economy from the middle class out. That means holding the 1 percent accountable for paying its fair share. That means fighting for federal and state minimum wage standards that do not leave people who get up and go to work every day unable to support themselves and their families. And that means demanding our employers – and elected officials – respect workers’ freedom to come together in unions and bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.
Every day Americans work hard and sacrifice to achieve the American dream. On Labor Day, we’re reminded of our responsibility to continue fighting to make that dream a reality.
– Bobby Kasper is president of the 50,000-member St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.