Reflecting on Labor Day

The recent Labor Day holiday struck me in a strange way. Labor Day, the celebration of labor in a time when many are jobless or soon to be. The day seemed even more poignant — perhaps even somber — than in the past, as unemployment rates and home foreclosures soar and our own state government deepens the deficit. What is there to celebrate? 
I’ve noticed an optimistic shift in economic news, and I can’t ascertain if the media is simply jumping the gun. It appears we’re braced for economic recovery, at least according to various sound bytes from one economist or another. There is even a Web site out there devoted to “positive economic news” (www.positiveeconomicnews.com), where you can stay up to speed on all things, well, economically positive.
For now, an encouraging economic forecast only serves as a morale booster during desperate times. It may seem meaningless on the surface, but we’ll take all the hopeful economic news we can get at this point. Besides, we’ve forever been fighters, unwilling to back down from a battle. A little good news from time to time always helps the troops.
Which is precisely why the spirit of the American people will never cease to amaze me. And really, the past decade has been a hot mess in this country, what with 9/11 and two wars and now a failed economy. We’re stronger now because of our united struggle.
According to the United States Department of Labor, Labor Day “constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” It’s safe to say us worker bees have done our part, giving us good cause to rejoice in the well-being of the country, I suppose. But why is it if we’re celebrating strength and prosperity, that everything is crashing around us with a resounding thud?
This is my first recession, and I’ll admit it’s scarier than hell sometimes. Like most Americans, job security has become a foreign word to me. Like most Americans, our hours have been cut; our staff trimmed to a near nonexistence. And like most Americans, it’s unlikely I’ll earn a raise any time soon (although you are free to consider, Jim).
But on the plus side, I’m employed and I have decent benefits. So like most Americans, I remain thankful, work hard, and live to see another day. 
I write this column on board a completely booked flight, hours after dining at a busy airport restaurant where people were drinking beer and laughing. The juxtaposition never adds up in my mind, for if we’re in the midst of a major recession, why are people spending money on frivolous extravagances? It’s true numbers never lie, as most markets are now beyond immediate repair. But is it possible reality is telling a different story, at least on the surface? Will we see the return of consumer confidence soon? Stay tuned.
I, for one, will never invent the economic cure-all (considering I can hardly add or subtract, this may come as no surprise). This doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to my own opinion on economic recovery. I believe we should establish our own parameters by scaling back excessively large business models. Corporations are important, it’s true, but they outgrow their capacities quickly. And we’ve all experienced what happens when the big boys collapse. We went down hard this time because we’re entirely too global in scope. 
Local economies are fundamental to national and even global economies, making it important to focus on the small details at home. We’ve seen a good deal of economic decay in our neck of the woods, but let’s hope the upbeat economists are on to something. Shop local!

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