Celebrating Entrepreneurship on Labor Day

By at 2 September, 2019, 10:45 am

by Raymond J. Keating-

Labor Day was launched by the labor movement in the 19th century, with some 10,000 people assembling in New York City for a parade on September 5, 1882. It was President Grover Cleveland in 1894 who signed into law legislation proclaiming that the first Monday in September be recognized as “Labor Day.”

As the Census Bureau said in a Labor Day “Facts for Features”:

“This national holiday is a creation of the labor movement in the late 19th century and pays tribute to the social and economic achievements of workers in America.”

While most people tend to think of Labor Day as the big weekend bringing about the unofficial end of summer, among those who ponder its deeper meaning, many still seem to focus on the 19th and 20th century thinking on work and careers. But the realities of the U.S. workplace today are very different.

First, labor unions have fallen to near irrelevance in the private sector. While labor union membership stood at 14.6 million, or 24.2 percent of the private sector workforce, in 1973, those numbers have declined to 8.5 million members in 2018, or 6.4 percent of private sector workers, according to The 6.4 percent ties the lowest level (also registered in 2016) over the past 45 years of data, and the number of union members at their lowest point during this period in 2012 at 7 million.

Second, it’s largely in the government sector where labor unions remain relevant, with public sector union membership coming in at 7.2 million in 2018, or 33.9 percent of public sector workers. However, even in the public sector, there has been a decline – from 37.4 percent of government workers and 7.9 million members in 2009 to 2018’s 33.9 percent and 7.2 million.

Third, while labor unions have declined in representing workers, they have ramped up activities in the political realm. Labor unions stand out as a big special interest that engages extensively in political campaigns and lobbying.

Fourth, Labor Day needs to be recognized as a day celebrating all of those engaged in working – not just those who happen to be labor union members. That includes all of the 163.3 million people in the labor force (as of July of this year), and the 157.3 million employed – basically standing at double the numbers registered in 1970, for example.

Fifth, entrepreneurs must be included in the Labor Day celebration, given that they labor hard themselves, and engage in significant risk-taking to startup, invest in and operate a businesses. And by doing so, entrepreneurs create jobs for workers.

Consider that in July of this year, 16 million Americans were self-employed – either incorporated or unincorporated self-employment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Or, if we look at the most recent employer and nonemployer numbers (2016) from the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 30 million businesses in this nation.  By either measure, the number of entrepreneurs in the U.S. far outdistance the number of labor union members.

Indeed, all those who labor – to build businesses and careers, to support themselves and their families, to create employment opportunities for others, to innovate and to serve others through their work – need to be recognized in America’s Labor Day celebration.

Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council

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