The Sweat of Labor

The migrant mother, photographed in Nipomo, California, searching for a better life.  Work, back-breaking work, promised a future in the ’30s. Or merely survival. 

This photo is part of Dorothea Lange’s photographs of “Okies” and “Arkies” — the dust-caked Depression-era refugees standing forlorn before their ragged tents or trudging along desolate highways — are familiar to many Americans. They inspired John Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath) and have lodged themselves deeply in the country’s psyche. (Oakland Museum)

We celebrate Labor Day. Established as a Federal holiday in 1894, it is on the first Monday in September to honor and recognize the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the United States.

What can we celebrate? Ignoring effects of the current coronavirus pandemic, we have come a long way.  More people are working and enjoying the “fruits” of their labor than ever before and poverty rates are declining.  Yet one in eight people in the United States is officially under the poverty line ($25,465).  Worldwide, poverty has dropped from 2 billion to 1 billion in 20 years. 

We have done well with a robust economy.  We can do better. The freedom of individuals to pursue their own economic interests is paramount. Poverty is not an inevitable, natural condition and could and should be eliminated. Anti-poverty policy along with strong work ethic and opportunities promise a future beyond survival.

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