Labor's tribute: Americans deserve good jobs with fair pay

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Labor Day is a holiday tinged with sadness, signaling as it does the end of summer fun.

It is accompanied by the closing of outdoor public swimming pools and the opening of classroom doors. It means that leisurely evenings with the sun still high in the sky are vanishing, and soon it will be necessary to turn on the headlights for the drive home from work.

It is work, of course, not the seasonal significance of this date, that is the reason for the national observance of Labor Day.

Today, we honor the workers of America, the people who tend our crops, manufacture our products, deliver our services, care for our young and our ill and our elderly and keep our nation running. This year, and for some time now, the condition of the workforce also has been tinged with sadness.

Although local unemployment has fallen from a recession high of 8.4 percent in 2010, the rate of 6.7 percent in the seven-county Pittsburgh metropolitan area remains unhealthy. The level of unemployment among black residents is far worse, with a 2011 census estimate that one in every five black adults who wanted to find work could not.

Among people who are working, too many are in positions that don't take advantage of the full range of their talents or don't provide enough hours to be self-sustaining. Debate continues over what qualifies as fair pay. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 has not changed since July 2009, and with that kind of pay in a 40-hour week a worker earns $15,080 a year -- not enough to escape the government's definition of poverty for a two-person household.

Today, we ponder a jobs picture that is improving, but a future that is nonetheless filled with challenges. Some of us are working, spending our Labor Day laboring, a requirement in our 24/7 culture. Some of us have the day off and are afforded the luxury of time spent with family and friends.

All of us must share the goal of creating a climate where work is available for all who seek it and just compensation is provided in exchange for the effort. That would be a fitting tribute for any Labor Day.



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