At their core, the major American holidays are bound by a common thread: They remind us of who we are and what we stand for, each and every year.
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 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.
Speaking of work, there has been some positive economic news recently for Kentucky. The Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, for example, announced two weeks ago that the commonwealth’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 we have added 19,400 jobs over the past year.
A fourth of those came in manufacturing alone, putting the industry’ employee 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.
In construction, meanwhile, the number of houses built each month on average between June 2015 and June 2016 totaled almost 12,000, a 37 percent increase over the average monthly housing starts the previous year.
This Labor Day weekend is an ideal time to enjoy gains like these and the effort that 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.
As we reflect on their contributions – and enjoy time with family and friends – it is good to recall that our work makes a difference to someone. Whether you build car parts, sew clothing, plow a field or serve in a restaurant, you have an impact on someone’s life. You’re doing your part to keep this nation moving forward. I want to thank you for all of that you have done and what that has meant for our country.
Having a chance to honor our workers is what makes this holiday so special, because it looks back with respect and looks forward with expectation of even better days. With that in mind, that I hope you and your family have a wonderful time this weekend.