The economy may or may not be recovering, and who knows the shape of said recovery (an L? A W? It appears not to be a straight V, alas). But as the unemployment news hits the wires this AM (9.6%, per the 8:30AM announcement), one thing we do know for sure is that there are a lot fewer people working right now than would like to be working.
I’ve been thinking about these numbers in light of this year’s celebration of Labor Day. According to the Department of Labor, the holiday is intended to celebrate the “social and economic achievements of American workers.” Which have, of course, been many. But most American workers don’t achieve great economic things until someone else creates a job. Who, exactly, is doing that?
In the minds of many (and I would be including our president in this sentence, despite some nice words to the contrary), we often think of job creation as some nebulous corporate decision. And so there is much urging of these nebulous powers that be to create jobs, even as levels of government and various do-gooders try to insert their claws into these decisions. They perceive this as some vast leveling of the playing field between huge corporations and individuals. And so you get health care reform. Reams of paperwork. Fees (it’s hard to claim states actually want us to create jobs when any new hire immediately incurs a workman’s comp and disability premium). Taxes — don’t pretend that payroll taxes don’t raise the costs of hiring people; all the increased unemployment insurance payments are going to have to be made up somehow. And campaigns to guarantee various work-life balance goodies. Most small business owners already wind up covering for their employees when they need to take off for illness, emergencies, etc. Even if that wrecks the business owner’s own work-life balance. But that doesn’t stop the campaigns for demonizing evil employers.
The crazy thing is, though, that these employers are not impersonal. The Kauffman Foundation finds that most new jobs are created by start-ups. These are people who make a decision to solve a problem in the marketplace. They often take on debt. They take on reams of paperwork. They take on oodles of regulations dreamed up by politicians who’ve never personally created a job in their lives. And yes, they hope to make money. But as they do, they create opportunities for other people.
All of this is hard work. It is easier not to do it. In a place like New York, where sometimes the city takes it upon itself to do crazy things like regulate how many words you can have on your store awning, I’m surprised that more business owners don’t make like Atlas, as the saying goes, and shrug. But many keep plugging away. For that, they deserve to be celebrated. This Labor Day, if politicians want more Americans to be involved in labor, then we should be celebrating the job creators. We need more people like them.