Summer’s end is traditionally marked by the arrival of Labor Day. This year, those of us who work for a living in the United States of America are increasingly uneasy about the direction of our country. For good reason. Over the last decade, stagnant incomes and economic instability have increasingly become a fact of life for more and more Americans. We have too much debt as a nation and as individuals. The Bush administration’s Great Recession officially began in December 2007 as Americans started losing jobs and homes at an alarming rate. By the summer of 2008, reckless risk taking by Wall Street put the pace of economic decline into overdrive. President Obama came into office in January 2009 to an economy that was still standing on the brink of collapse.
The bail out of Wall Street and the banks by the Bush administration in late 2008 was a necessary evil. It irked so many Americans because it seemed unjust to bail out the same institutions whose greed had created the financial collapse. But capitalism doesn’t work without capital and there was no choice for the Federal Reserve Bank and the government but to recapitalize the very institutions that had put the entire capitalist system at risk. Failing to do so would have ended capitalism in the United States as we know it.
President Obama and his economic team have done a highly competent job of turning the American economy around. The bailout of the auto industry not only saved a couple of million jobs but has resulted in an American auto industry that turned a profit this year for the first time in many years. A long list initiatives — health reform; credit card reform; the federalization of federal student loans; financial industry reform; federal investments in our aging infrastructure and green technology; aid to states to maintain the jobs of teachers, police, and fire fighters; tax cuts for all but the most wealthy American workers; tax incentives for hiring workers here in the United States rather than overseas — have all put the American economy on a more positive footing.
Anyone who asserts the opposite is talking nonsense — engaging in the kind of Orwellian propaganda that would have made the Kremlin blush. There are no answers coming from the Republican Party, or from the Tea Party movement. But there is still much to do. We have too many workers unemployed, on the edge of disaster, and experiencing declining economic security. Too many mortgages are still under water. Too many American children are dropping out of high school and not enough of us are going to college and graduate school, especially for advanced study in Math and Science.
The answer is not to cut the Social Security benefits of American workers. That system needs attention but the truth is that it wouldn’t take that much to keep the Social Security trust fund solvent for many more generations.
So as we ponder America’s future on this Labor Day, how do we make sense of the state of the American worker? Is the future really that bleak? The answer, in my humble opinion, is no — unless we believe it is so. We need to come to our senses and stop listening to those who would have us find scapegoats for what ails us. Blaming illegal immigrants, Muslims, homosexuals, or liberals is not the answer. We need on this holiday weekend to look within ourselves as Americans. We need to hold those who would be our leaders to a higher standard. It’s time to ask for specific solutions to the very real issues we confront as a nation. We need to begin rewarding hard work and responsibility again and stop rewarding greed. We need to reflect on what we need to do as a nation to rebuild an America that we can proudly leave to our children and to the generations that follow. We need on this Labor Day to begin again the work of rebuilding our country together, as Americans.