Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day: Here's to the Working Man

Politicians of both parties routinely extol the virtues of “hard working Americans.” Who are they talking about?

These are peoples who I think deserve the title of “hard working Americans:” People who rake hot asphalt in the summertime, people who freeze in the winter while they're out repairing busted pipes, people who pick lettuce, people who pour concrete all day long in the sun, people who pluck chickens, waitresses who must stand on their feet all day and work long hours and put up with demanding bitchy customers.

To my way of thinking, it is not just physical labor that makes you a “hard working American” however. Some white-collar jobs and people with professional jobs also qualify. If you have a high-stress job, that may qualify you. If you are an attorney with a heavy caseload and you are practicing family law or criminal law then you are a “ hard working American”. If you own you own business and have to struggle to meet payroll and you work a lot of hours, you are a “hard working American”. If you are working in the emergency room of a hospital you are a “hard working American.” I guess I also think of anyone who is working more than one job or working more than 50 hours a week as a hard working American.

Americans certainly work more hours than other advanced industrial nation. In a typical year, Americans work the equivalent of a week more than the Japanese, three weeks more than the British, six weeks more than the French and nine weeks more than the Germans. And, more of us work. The unemployment rate in America is only 4.6% and it is 8.3% in France and 8.4% in Germany and in lots of third world counties they have unemployment rates in the 40% range. By the world’s standards we are hard working.

You often hear Americans complain about how hard they must work. Sometimes people will say that if takes both husband and wife working to support a household whereas when they were children, one wage earner could support a household. This is only true because we want so much more stuff, like bigger houses and newer and more cars and toys. A family of five in the fifties could live in a 3-bedroom house with one bath and drive only one used sedan and have no cable TV or cell phones and not feel poor. A family living in those conditions today would think of themselves as deprived. It does take more income to support the lifestyle we expect, but we expect a lot more. We work more because we value money and the thinks it can buy more than we value leisure time and other things.

I suspect almost everyone who is working thinks of himself or herself as “hard working”. What about the person who works 35 hours a week at a job that is not particularly physically demanding or nerve racking? Their job may be stressful at times but not all the time. They have benefits, eight paid holidays a year and three weeks paid vacation. Is this person a “hard working American?” What about the mid-level bureaucrat or the college professor? There are a lot of Americans like this. Apparently they still think of themselves as “hard working Americans.” I don’t hear anyone say to the politicians, “What about us non-hard-working Americans?”

Compared to the person raking hot asphalt in the summertime, I am not a “hard working American.”

Hear is a song for the working man. (To hear the song, click the song title)

Working Man Blues by Merle Haggard

It's a big job just gettin' by with nine kids and a wife
I been a workin' man dang near all my life
I'll be working long as my two hands are fit to use
I'll drink my beer in a tavern, Sing a little bit of these working man blues

I keep my nose on the grindstone, I work hard every day
Might get a little tired on the weekend, after I draw my pay
But I'll go back workin, come Monday morning I'm right back with the crew
I'll drink a little beer that evening,
Sing a little bit of these working man blues

Hey hey, the working man, the working man like me
I ain't never been on welfare, that's one place I won't be
Cause I'll be working
long as my two hands are fit to use
I drink a little beer in a tavern
Sing a little bit of these working man blues

Sometimes I think about leaving, do a little bummin around
I wanna throw my bills out the window catch a train to another town
But I go back working I gotta buy my kids a brand new pair of shoes
Yeah drink a little beer in a tavern,
Cry a little bit of these working man blues

Hey hey, the working man, the working man like me
I ain't never been on welfare, that's one place I won't be
Cause I'll be working long as my two hands are fit to use
I drink a little beer in a tavern
Sing a little bit of these working man blues

Yeah drink a little beer in a tavern,
Cry a little bit of these working man blues

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