Dignity of Labor for All

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On Labor Day we celebrate with barbecues, baseball and beer. But the original idea was to celebrate the contributions working people make to our country. And work really is a crucial part of our identity as Americans. In fact, the United States is home to the most productive people on the planet, and apart from Korea, we put in more hours at work than every country in the world.

Yet for many Americans who want to work today, a job is out of reach. Despite recently coming to the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and the landmark Civil Rights Act, we still have a long way to go in achieving the full inclusion that I believe is at the heart of the American dream. To me that means everyone who wants to and can work has a job. It means we have the chance for upward mobility.  

My own family reflects this dream. My grandfather, an immigrant, worked as a janitor in New York and my grandmother sold pots and pans from a cart. And their son, my father, eventually became US Senator Jacob Javits from New York. He never forgot his roots, and always stood up for the rights of working people which he viewed as 100% compatible with the growth of capitalism and the rights and responsibilities of business.

My own personal work journey has culminated in my leadership at a nonprofit, that is all about helping entrepreneurs, employers and nonprofits create jobs and job opportunities for people who face the greatest barriers to employment and therefore are excluded from the workforce.

When people are excluded from work, we all pay the price. They exit prison and can't get a job so they end up back behind bars. They are veterans who are overwhelmed by the traumas they faced so they are homeless. They are people who have struggled to overcome the all-too-human tragedies of alcoholism and addiction, and people who lack role models and networks.


This Labor Day, alongside the barbecue, let's reflect on the successes that have been achieved in our country as well as the unfinished work of securing employment opportunities for those who are too often overlooked, to help those that want to work get that chance at a paycheck and a dignified place in society.  

With a Perspective, I'm Carla Javits.

Carla Javits is President and CEO of the REDF in San Francisco.