Labor Day is a time to acknowledge the contributions of the American worker. This holiday there is reason for optimism about an economy on the slow road to recovery. For the eighth consecutive month, the national unemployment rate remains below 7 percent. Consumer spending is healthy. And the housing sector is showing strength, with builders recently recording the industry's most robust increase in new home construction in seven months. Yet unemployment is still too high and much work remains to ensure that all Americans who want jobs can find them and that those already on payrolls earn enough to support their families.
About 1.6 million jobs were added to the American economy this year, contributing to a national unemployment rate of 6.2 percent. Unemployment in Florida also stands at 6.2 percent. But both nationally and in Florida, too many of those jobs are low-paying, part-time work or full-time positions where workers don't earn enough to take care of their households. Against that backdrop, the cost of living continues to rise, with necessities such as food, child care and housing taking a bigger bite out of family budgets. And yet the federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25 an hour (the minimum wage in Florida is $7.93 an hour).
Labor leaders rightly assert that no one who works full time should struggle to support himself or herself, or a family. Congress can go a long way toward helping American workers by raising the federal minimum wage. According to the Labor Department, an increase to $10.10 an hour would benefit 28 million Americans and lift 3.8 million out of the food stamp program. If Congress won't act, businesses need to do it themselves, paying a full and fair wage in exchange for a solid day's work.
There have been several victories for American workers at the federal level this year. The government is crafting rules to increase the minimum wage for workers under federal service contracts, and the Family and Medical Leave Act was updated to ensure that legally married same-sex couples receive the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. Separately, Congress passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, the first legislation in 15 years to improve the public workforce system. The act, which had broad bipartisan support, aims to equip Americans with the tools and skills they need to find jobs that pay a living wage.
Going forward, caution remains the watchword as workers look for economic indicators that will signal prolonged and sustainable growth. But on this day, American workers pause to rest and appreciate how far the country has come — and recognize there are still miles to go.