Labor Day celebrates America’s labor movement and the blood, sweat and toil of its workers.
Never mind the last-minute barbecues, bargains and beach days.
Monday marks the unofficial end of summer. It’s more New Year’s Day than New Year’s Day, really. The day after Labor Day is a time to reset. To return to life’s ordinary rhythms. To punch the clock and ring the school bell.
But there’s no ordinary in 2020. And the summer’s third and final holiday weekend, like every other respite of late, seems to have deeper meaning in a year that nearly 200,000 souls have been lost in the pandemic, millions have been left jobless, and a deep political divide, social unrest and long overdue racial reckoning has swept the nation.
“In a sense there’s a dark shadow around this particular holiday,” said David Blustein, a professor of psychology at Boston College and the author of “The Importance of Work in an Age of Uncertainty: The Eroding Work Experience in America.”
“We don’t know what the future holds regarding the pandemic. There’s also enormous amount of stress about the election. We don’t know what’s happening with schools. There’s a tremendous amount of not knowing.”
So many face a ‘precarious’ situation
Labor Day weekend is supposed to be a time of relaxation. For three days, time and responsibility are suspended. There are festive events, weekend get-togethers, backyard cookouts, family reunions, short road trips and coast-to-coast travel.
“The seasons, they’re kind of the transitions,” said Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor and vice chair of psychology at the University of California, Riverside.
“And the seasons are all feeling a little different… Human beings really need that kind of structure and ritual and sort of those changes that we look forward to every year. We also dread them but part of what gives life meaning is that structure.”
But how to find meaning in a country that lost 20.5 million jobs in April and nearly one million the previous month during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The US economy added 1.4 million jobs in August but far more jobs were lost during the pandemic than in the Great Recession or dot-com bust. Millions of families are still in need of benefits to make ends meet while Congress continues to argue about the next stimulus package.
“This is where the symbolism of Labor Day is very important,” Blustein said. “We have millions of people who aren’t working. And in some ways that crisis is being kind of relegated to the margins of our worries and our concerns… Of the millions of people out of work, many of them are being evicted. Many of them have no food, housing insecurity, health care insecurity. So on this Labor Day, when we think about work, we also will think about all of our fellow citizens who’ve lost so much, and the danger that we could also lose our jobs. Everyone’s work life these days is precarious in some way.”
Rather than a fresh start, ‘an endless loop’
By the end of Sunday, there were more than 6.2 million coronavirus cases and at least 188,941
deaths in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“It seems like we’re in kind of an endless loop,” said Kate Sweeny, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside.