Today is Labor Day in the USofA and Canada. You may be off at the State Fair or taking one last long summer day up at the cabin on the lake. Few people will read this in the middle of the last day of summer routine.
But that’s fine. This might be better on the Tuesday after Labor Day.
Today we celebrate the workers of this continent and celebrate work itself. We do this largely by loafing, by taking a day off to not work. It’s not that everyone needs a break. The idea is that we should all spend a day contemplating how much we are defined by what we do and how important the efforts are innovations of millions of people are to each other’s lives.
Today, in the USofA, about 14 Million people are officially “unemployed”. About half of them have been so for six months or more. These are a people who have been cast aside, their skills unwanted and their efforts undesired. Their slow daily spiral into poverty and depression starts with thousands of job applications eagerly filled out with great care without the slightest acknowledgement that they were ever even received. Gradually the fine art of survival takes up more time than the daily grind of applications.
Most of the long term unemployed learn to live without material things. They might go months without buying new clothes or getting their haircut. They might turn away when their friends show off their latest iPod or other gadget. They might even learn how one strong cup of coffee can take the place of a meal early in the day. Sometimes it comes down as a challenge more than a deficit, but even when it’s made into a game depression lurks around the next dark corner. It’s the complete loss of hope that comes from the feeling that they have been thrown out as garbage that slowly destroys them.
There are many more people like me who struggle to make it on their own, scrambling constantly. We spend more time looking for work than actually doing it sometimes, pounding the pavement from one shop to another to make connections. Sometimes we snag a gig that someone else tossed onto the sidewalk as they walked by. It’s not a living for anyone with a lot of pride.
This Labor Day, please contemplate more than just the value of work. Think about what the lack of it does to a person. If you are back at work the day after, bleary eyed and trying to get back into after a long weekend, take a moment to imagine what six months off of work without a paycheck would do to you. That reality confronts millions of people every day.