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Should Nations with High Unemployment Get Labor Day Off?

Jon C. Ogg

Labor Day is a holiday meant to honor the working man and the working woman. Its roots are more than 100 years old now. The question that comes to mind in today's age of high unemployment and underemployment is just how to consider this holiday. The United States has an official unemployment rate of 7.4%. Few would argue with you if you said that unofficially unemployment is much higher, when you consider underemployment and those who have dropped out of the labor force.

The U.S. Department of Labor calls Labor Day a creation of the labor movement, dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It is an annual national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country. Many other countries have a similar holiday, known as May Day or International Workers' Day, that is celebrated on May 1 rather than the first Monday of September.

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Regardless of when Labor Day is in the United States and the rest of the world, the term "Labor Day" has to be truly a sad pun in many nations. Here are some of the nations of the world that the latest Economist report on unemployment puts at more than 10%:

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  • Euro area 12.1%
  • France 11.0%
  • Greece 27.6%
  • Ireland 13.5%
  • Italy 12.1%
  • Latvia 11.4%
  • Lithuania 10.1%
  • Portugal 16.4%
  • Slovakia 14.0%
  • Slovenia 12.8%
  • Spain 26.3%
  • Hungary 10.2%
  • Poland 13.1%
  • Egypt 13.2% (pre-violence)
  • South Africa 25.6%

Most of these nations celebrate Labor Day, but usually on or around May 1 of each year rather than in September. Each nation's celebration, often a paid day off, seems to be a bit different in how long they have been celebrated and what the restrictions are.

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Unfortunately, the term "high unemployment" is systematically being replaced by "lower total employment." It is a sign of times, partly due to national demographics and also due to badly run economies that are unable to adapt to a world that quite simply has an overcapacity compared to total demand.

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It is sad to have to ponder such things. It is even more sad to have consider how much a holiday's name and intent might not be reflective of the world at certain times.

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