FRANKFORT – There are several holidays each year that are distinctly American – from Memorial Day and the Fourth of July to Thanksgiving – but only one celebrates the hard work that made us who we are: Labor Day.
It is often seen as the unofficial end to the summer, but it’s important to look beyond that as we celebrate the upcoming three-day weekend.
This holiday was first commemorated in a handful of states in the mid-1880s and grew as a movement until, in 1894, it was established on the first Monday in September. Since the start, it has highlighted the workers who form the foundation of our economy while also paying tribute to the influence they had and still have as we strive to make the workplace a better place in which to work.
Many of the hard-fought gains earned over the past 120-plus years are taken for granted today, from the 40-hour work week and child-labor laws to the minimum wage and sensible safety standards. These and many other positive changes weren’t always there, but with them, employees have increasingly been able to focus on the job at hand without putting themselves at needless risk.
As we think about these accomplishments, it is also good to recall that our work makes a difference to someone. Whether you manufacture parts in a factory, sew clothing, plow a field, maintain a utility, teach students or serve in a restaurant, you have made an impact on someone’s life. Your work is part of the fuel that keeps this nation moving forward.
Kentucky has harvested quite of a bit of fruit from this literal labor and the foundation it built. Since the start of last year, for example, we’ve had several economic-development announcements approach or exceed $1 billion apiece, and other companies have said they are on track to invest hundreds of millions of dollars more.
There are still areas where unemployment is too high, but overall, our state rate is around the lowest ever recorded, and exports have grown to about $30 billion a year, which marks a steep increase over the past decade.
In December, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Kentucky’s non-fatal rate of workplace injuries and illnesses in 2016 had dropped to its lowest rate since those numbers were first tabulated two decades ago. Kentucky has actually cut this rate in half over that timeframe, which is a testament to both business owners and their employees for finding ways to make the job site even safer.
This Labor Day weekend is an ideal time to reflect on how far we have come since the holiday first appeared on the calendar. While I worry that several recent new laws here in Kentucky undermine some of that progress – and other legislative proposals, like raising the minimum wage nine years after the last increase, never get heard – we should all be united in thanking the working men and women for what they do each and every day.
It is with that gratitude in mind that I hope you and your family have a wonderful time this weekend.