FRANKFORT – One of the great things about the major American holidays is that they all have a common theme: They remind us of who we are and what we stand for.
While the Fourth of July celebrates our founding and freedom, Memorial Day and Veterans Day call on us never to forget the high price paid for those enduring gifts. Thanksgiving gives us a moment among loved ones to appreciate the many good things in our lives, and on Labor Day, which arrives this weekend, we pay tribute to the hard work that made our nation what it is today.
Labor Day is often seen as the unofficial end to the summer, but it’s important to look beyond that.
It was first recognized in a handful of states in the mid-1880s and grew as a movement until, in 1894, it was established where it is today on the calendar: the first Monday in September. Since the start, it has highlighted the workers who form the foundation of our economy and the influence they had and still have to make the workplace a better place in which to work.
Many of those gains are taken for granted today, from the 40-hour work week to the minimum wage and sensible safety standards. These and many other positive changes weren’t always there, but with them, employees can better focus on the job at hand without putting themselves at needless risk. It’s important to remember those who made it possible for us to enjoy these measures.
As we reflect on their contributions – and enjoy time with family and friends – it is also good to recall that our work makes a difference to someone. Whether you mine coal, build car parts, sew clothing, or serve in a restaurant, you have an impact on someone’s life. You’re doing your part to keep this nation moving forward.
My ongoing commitment is to help create as many jobs as possible while giving our citizens the tools they need to work. That effort spans from implementing ideas growing out of the SOAR initiative to trying to protect postsecondary education from Governor Bevin’s budget cuts and creating a new scholarship program for graduating high school seniors pursuing their two-year college degree the next fall.
There is some good news to report at the state levels. Two weeks ago, for example, officials announced that Kentucky’s unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in July, the lowest it has been since May 2001. A separate federal survey (which does not include farming and the self-employed) shows Kentucky has added 19,400 jobs over the past year.
A fourth of those came in manufacturing alone, putting the industry’s employment numbers close to where they were before the national recession began in 2008.
That growth enabled our factories to export more than $28 billion worth of goods in the last year, which is almost 56 percent higher in inflation-adjusted dollars than what we shipped to other countries in 2009.
In other good news, state tourism officials said in May that the industry’s $13.7 billion economic impact last year was five percent higher than 2014’s, the biggest annual increase in a decade. Our region plays a major role in getting those numbers higher.
This Labor Day weekend is an ideal time to enjoy gains like these and what went into making them possible, both in the recent past and over the decades. I know that if the workers of a century ago could see us today, they would be proud that we have both honored their legacy and built upon it.
That’s what makes this holiday so special, because it looks back with respect and looks forward with expectation of even better days. It is with that in mind that I hope you and your family have a wonderful time this weekend.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.