The AFL-CIO report, “Young Workers: A Lost Decade,” shows that not only have young workers lost financial ground over the past 10 years—they have also lost some of their optimism.
* More than one in three young workers say they are currently living at home with their parents.
* 31 percent of young workers reports being uninsured, up from 24 percent without health insurance coverage 10 years ago.
* One-third of young workers cannot pay the bills and seven in 10 do not have enough saved to cover two months of living expenses.
Based on a nationwide survey of 1,156 people by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO and the AFL-CIO community affiliate Working America, “Young Workers” examines young workers’ economic standing, attitudes and hopes for the future. It also draws a comparison with findings from a similar 1999 AFL-CIO study, as well as with attitudes of workers older than 35.
To many people, the labor movement is all about the bling. In education, this means better salaries for teachers, pensions, and health care. Labor Day, though, ought to be a reminder that the labor movement has never been so narrow and that even the seemingly narrow goals often have a wide ranging and unpredictable impact. A shorter work week creates the weekend, but it also creates the leisure time necessary for all sorts of political organizing and change.
In education, the labor movement represents an attempt to democratize knowledge in several senses. A strong union would correct the imbalance of power in which administrators can override teachers, employees, students, and parents. Administrators should administrate, not govern. The current imbalances won’t be addressed until the union movement extends from kindergarten to graduate school and beyond. As the AFL-CIO suggests, a strong union movement would ensure that education is widely available.
The reactionary mind says that “college education” isn’t for everyone. That may or may not be true. It is not up to us to decide who will benefit from an education. In a democracy we decide for ourselves. That’s why restricting educational access through testing or financing is undemocratic and dysfunctional. An educated culture would not eliminate jobs that were once only taken by the uneducated, either. It would transform those jobs in ways we can’t predict. That’s why Labor Day is important.