By Althea Champion
While others spend the day with their families outside, grilling kabobs, taking advantage of the last inklings of warm weather, or swarming flash retail sales, others will spend it inside either on the clock on site, from home, or in isolation.
This Labor Day, 28 million Americans are out of work. Those who are, chiefly nurses, grocery store workers, custodial staff, and essential workers alike, are risking their health to stay employed. And, these are the people who, most likely, will not actually be permitted a day off to celebrate the federal holiday.
Created by the labor movement, Labor Day is meant to pay tribute to the hard work and dedication of American workers. More than a century ago, when it was celebrated in New York City for the first time, a parade ran through the streets, made complete by waving workers wearing smiling faces and flying flags, proud to be members of the new and progressive labor party.
But, its establishment as a federal holiday came at a steep price. It was only after a massive boycott and the bloodshed of 13 and injuries of 53 did President Grover Cleveland recognize the first Monday of each and every September, which was already being observed in 23 other states, as a federal holiday.
Today, a great proportion (43%) of the essential working men and women of this country are people of color. And the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting them the hardest.
“According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native people had an age-adjusted COVID-19 hospitalization rate about 5.3 times that of non-Hispanic white people,” reported William F. Marshall, III M.D. “COVID-19 hospitalization rates among non-Hispanic Black people and Hispanic or Latino people were both about 4.7 times the rate of non-Hispanic white people.”
For the 1 in 5 people in the workforce receiving unemployment compensation, the day is similarly solemn. Benefits are in high demand. And, some of those who applied for it have either not received it because they were denied, or are still waiting. The extension of their benefits, some of which have not even been delivered yet to applicants, are a hot spot of contention amongst congress, and job opportunities are few and far in between.
According to Aimee Pichee of CBS News, the unemployment rate fell below 10% for the first time since March. Despite this promising piece of news, she also reminds us that, “the hiring rate has slowed each month this summer, a signal that the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic may be losing steam.”
Today, instead of going to a party or participating in a parade, we will acknowledge the impact of our workers, and mourn those who lost their lives fighting on the front lines against a pandemic that our country’s unit of government could not contain. Many are still fighting, punching a clock day-in and day-out, and will do so today despite the holiday.