On Labor Day, thinking of those without jobs

In honor of Labor Day weekend, Scott Simon, host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, offered this touching essay urging us to keep in mind “the millions of Americans who don’t have jobs, but who in many ways work harder than ever”  (click here to listen to the audio version):

On this Labor Day weekend, we might give some thought to what it’s like to be without a job.

About 1 in every 10 Americans — 15 million, the population of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago combined — doesn’t have a job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are 3 million more who have just stopped looking for jobs after a year because they can’t find one.

Having no job does not mean having no work. Your children must still be fed, bathed and ferried to school, which is a lot of hard work. But you have less money for food, gas and the new shoes your children need for school.

It means that if you have a toothache, you might pretend it will go away, until it becomes a sharp pain. Then you have to see a dentist, but may not be able to buy a new winter coat.

It means, as Halloween and the holiday season approach, that many good parents tell their children they just can’t have some small toy or trinket that every other child seems to have. Or, more likely, the parent will go without something else — again.

I talked to a man in Ohio this week who said he hadn’t bought a stitch of new clothing in more than a year; his shirts were beginning to fray. When he got his first job interview in months, he bought a new shirt, so he wouldn’t look tattered and defeated. And when he didn’t get that job, he was ashamed that he’d bought a shirt, instead of food for his family.

Having no job means that things people talk about so much these days — iPads, Android phones, 3-D movies, new music or meeting friends over $4 coffee drinks — are just beyond reach. You worry about getting dull, having nothing to talk about and losing friends. You worry about life leaving you behind.

You may be sure that your family loves you, but worry that they’ll start feeling sorry for you, and wonder why you have to be the one person in 10 who doesn’t have a job. You may blame politicians, brokers and bankers, but in the middle of the night, you might turn your eyes to the sky and wonder what you did, didn’t do or should have done.

Any one of us who is lucky enough to have a job today must worry about losing it. This Labor Day, we might salute the millions of Americans who don’t have jobs, but who in many ways work harder than ever.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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