Labor Day is a Holiday That Means Nothing … or Everything

I never knew my grandfather. I wish I could have learned about courage from him as he died while trying to save another man’s life. As a proxy my father was not too shabby in passing on that message. As a boy suddenly thrust into the unimaginable situation where he and three siblings were left to be raised by a widowed mother, they clung together as a family and worked ceaselessly to endure the hard times. Labor was not something to be celebrated but a necessary element of existence. He delivered newspapers and worked other part time jobs until he graduated from high school to help support his family and then went to work full time. He never had the opportunity to go to college but he never stopped learning. When he and my mother joined together to give birth to two Baby Boomer children, they probably did not even know any other kind of life but were committed to giving us the opportunity that they never had. The hope of a better life was not a cliché in our family.

Dad worked with his hands and was a brilliant machinist, toolmaker, technician, inventor and before he retired was an instructor at a technical institution. He was revered as one of the best at teaching not only the mechanics of the job but also at creating an aura of impeccable work ethic that was the goal of his students. How lucky I was to have such a powerful man and leader as a father! How ironic that most of the online community that I work with would have probably not even bothered with him. Our job seeker advocacy is extremely nearsighted as we see the world through the eyes of degreed professionals and offer advice to job seekers as if the rest of the world is just like us. They aren’t. Nobody is acting selfishly or out of self interest, but the statistics show that we are for the most part ignoring a large portion of the population who needs help desperately.

The US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps tabs on unemployment data and slices it by age, gender, race and just about any other way you could imagine. We usually see only the headline summary that the latest unemployment figures are around 8.3%. The breakdown by education looks something like this:

  • People like us (with Bachelor’s Degree or Higher): 4.3%
  • Those other people (with some college or associates degree): 8.2%
  • People like Dad (High School graduates with no college): 9.3%
  • Those people invisible to us (Less than a high school diploma): 14.9%

I look at this breakout and feel so ashamed that most of my work has been in the wrong place.

There is no quick solution although during an election year you can bet the farm that it will be politicized to the point that there will be no credible answer to the looming question: How can we gain full employment? Our system of government allows for the freedom of individual and corporate action to tackle hard problems and fix them. So really, it is up to me and there are several areas of focus that needs to be shifted in order to truly reach everyone.

  1. Communication – Not everyone is computer literate or spends time online looking for a job. The methods we sometimes take for granted needs to be rolled back a notch and tailored for those who need a job and not a better resume. Local job advocacy groups are begging for volunteers. Do I have the time to do as much there as I do online?
  2. Education – Involvement by corporations looking to be good citizens of the community where they reside can be instrumental in giving the local unemployed population a leg up in finding gainful employment. They want work, not handouts. Does my involvement with the local Chamber of Commerce give me a bully pulpit to champion this cause?
  3. Compassion – These economic times are hard for even those who have a degree. While they still fare better than those without formal education, those who “are not like us” are people too. In some instances they enjoy benefits of a forced existence that gives them value beyond education. My father’s lessons still ring in my ears.

It is on this Labor Day that I set my eyes on the goal of helping more than I have before and asking…no, begging…my friends and colleagues to do the same.


Image credit: Happy Labor Day vichie81 / 123RF Stock



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  1. This is a beautiful post Tom. Every bit of it has a ton of merit.

  2. Tom…easy on yourself; the reason your folks toiled as much as mine was so your societal would be elevated. If you want to celebrate Labor Day, you can honor your parents by continuing the work you’ve been doing to help people understand the world and rules of work.

    However, since I do know you well, I know how much it bothers you that the unemployment rate is higher for those with lower levels of education. But there is one thing to keep in mind – regardless of one’s education there are those who simply won’t put in the work necessary to raise themselves above the fray: They will remain members of a statistical class used to politicize the effectiveness (or lack of) governmental “jobs” program during every election cycle. Tom, these are the people who send out 25 resumes over a 6 month period and then without a response, are featured in newspaper articles bemoaning the economy. If there’s a message that you must continue to push out – and that goes equally for Cyndy and me – is that finding and keeping a job is hard work…very hard work. And it’s sure easier to complain than to hunker down, introspect, work, reassess, repeat.

    My thoughts on the three areas of focus:

    *Communication* I believe every recruiter should spend one hour per week in their local DOL jobs center; of course this would require an openness not yet seen in the local DOL JCs. If you can’t find the name of the head of your local job center and make the case for your assistance, perhaps you need to leave recruiting.

    *Education* Corporate Involvement starts out like a trickle of water; pick 3-5 local companies and contact the head of communications and ask to speak with them about a “Global Selling, Local Hiring” program. Start by hiring ONE person…and publicize the heck out of it. Talk about the the issues with utter candor. ONE hire…

    *Compassion* Take these same 3-5 local companies and have their employees volunteer at a local food bank or DOL JC; let them see with their own eyes, hear with their own ears.

    You can’t pretend unemployment doesn’t happen…

    • Cyndy Trivella on September 3, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Extremely heartfelt post Tom.

    Agreed, there is much more that can be done, to help the unemployed. I like what Steve wrote about companies taking the initiative to put out a helping hand and make a difference, even if that help is at a local level… unemployment is all around us and we don’t need to look hard to find someone in this situation.

    I said over a year ago that if every person who is employed extended a hand to just one unemployed person and made that person their “project” (I mean this respectfully); we might be able to make a difference in this country and beyond. This is going to take commitment and determination. Maybe this is a pipe dream, but it remains my wish.

  3. Great post, Tom. This really resonated with me.

    You’re right; it’s easy to forget that most people aren’t office workers. There’s a large segment of the population that hasn’t been reached in this unemployment mess. This population (hourly workers, mostly in service industries) has been my focus for over 20 years. Fortunately, I’m now in a position to help a bit, utilizing private and public partners to do so. You can get a taste of it in this latest blog post:

    Thanks for sharing this. Good luck and let me know how I can help!

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