Labor Day provides a much-needed three-day weekend at the end of the summer for millions of workers. But for too many of their friends and neighbors, there is little reason to celebrate.
This Labor Day, like so many others in recent years, finds too many Americans — and especially too many New Mexicans — still looking for work.
The most recent numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which came out Aug. 1, showed little change from the month before nationally. A paltry 209,000 nonfarm jobs were added, and the unemployment rate held steady at 6.2 percent, or 9.7 million workers in need of work. Some 3.2 million of those workers are classified as long-term unemployed, out of work for 27 weeks or more. The unemployment rate for Hispanics, at 7.8 percent, is greater than for the nation as a whole.
In New Mexico, things are even worse. Instead of seeing minimal growth, the civilian labor force in our state has actually declined in the past six months.
Along with celebrating the American worker, Labor Day weekend in even-numbered years like this one has long been considered the unofficial start for the final, frantic push heading to the November election. With unemployment continuing to plague our state and nation, it is clear that jobs will once again be top of mind for voters.
And so will wages. In Las Cruces, organizers hope to have a proposal to raise the city minimum wage included on the ballot. Failed efforts to raise the minimum wage at the state and federal levels will undoubtedly be an issue in races for state representative, governor and U.S. Congress.
Candidates are likely to offer very different prescriptions to cure our economic ills. Some will argue for right-to-work laws, lower business taxes and fewer regulations. Others will make the case for higher wages and infrastructure investment as the best way to stimulate consumer spending and help the economy.
What's clear is that our region must increase private-sector jobs to lessen our dependence on an unpredictable federal government that has been in cost-cutting mode recently, and not always wisely — witness the mindless defense cuts mandated under sequestration.
How, exactly, to achieve that private-sector growth will be the subject of intense debate.
There will be a number of issues this year for voters to weigh. But this Labor Day is a reminder that few will be more important than putting unemployed workers back on the job.