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Labor Day means something new

Americans rethink how, where, for how much they work

In the last decade of the 19th century, with strikes and violence between corporate owners and workforces over working conditions and wages, a holiday to recognize labor’s value was created by its advocates.

The original Labor Day had organized labor, unions or unions to be at its core, but the reduced demands would flow to most employees in the U.S. The 40-hour week over five days and job safety would become standard.

The first Monday in September remains, but today it is thought of as the end of summer or the unofficial beginning of the school year.

In La Plata County, it is overlaid with motorcycles.

We can’t expect the labor leaders of the 1890s to have forecast the future, nor would anyone have imagined what a widespread virus would do to employment. By government order – and it seemed good judgment at the time – retailers were closed or shoppers limited, events canceled and travel reduced. High-density cities saw those who could leave – many to work remotely – relocate to small towns or move permanently to very different parts of the county that looked appealing. Durango has been greatly affected by the latter.

That left front–line workers, those whose jobs required interacting with other people who might unknowingly be carrying the virus, vulnerable. Lower income people and those of color became a large number of the victims.

With the unsettled work environment, millions of Americans in the two-plus years of COVID-19 have rethought what work brings them satisfaction, at what wage and in what geographic location.

As the pressure of the virus and its offshoots relaxed, and businesses reopened, workers did not come back to their previous jobs. Help wanted signs are still plentiful in this community and across the country.

Higher hourly wages at the lowest levels, up significantly and sometimes with a bonus for even brief longevity, have been a welcome result, although paying the bills remains difficult.

The higher wages won’t fall back.

As to immigrants, who have been an important component of the workforce, one political party would rather use immigration as a political issue than compromise to benefit the country, and the other cannot seem to say no to anyone wanting to enter the U.S.

Over time, we expect, employment will reshape close to its multiple, proper levels again with higher wages, parts of the country benefiting and somewhat more American manufacturing. Working from anywhere with a computer will slow somewhat the shift from lightly populated areas to city clusters.

And those who dropped out to try another line of work, in another location, that will be for the better. They will be more satisfied, more content with the way they spend their 40 hours.

Have an enjoyable Labor Day Weekend.