The State of Labor in New Mexico

Happy Labor Day Weekend! Before we get to the data, here’s a reminder, via historian Thaddeus Russell, of the holiday’s origins:

In 1884, when President Grover Cleveland signed the bill making Labor Day a national holiday on the first Monday in September, he and its sponsors intended it not as a celebration of leisure but as a promotion of the great American work ethic. Work, they believed, was the highest calling in life, and Labor Day was a reminder to get back to it. It was placed at the end of summer to declare an end to the season of indolence, and also to distance it from May Day, the spring event that had become a symbol of the radical labor movement.

The day most of us now spend in happy leisure was created to urge Americans to work more, not less. The holiday’s inventors would have been dismayed to see that Americans today would use it only to float in a pool, play putt-putt golf, or — even worse — to fantasize about a life in which they do nothing but play.

When President Cleveland signed Labor Day into existence … the conservative American Federation of Labor endorsed the new holiday. In deliberate contrast to “slackers,” union members used their government-approved day off to march in their work clothes alongside floats showing off the tools of their trades. They carried signs declaring the “honor” and “nobility” of work. Labor Day marches were praised by the press as “sober, clean, quiet” demonstrations of “the honest American workingman.”

Unfortunately, honest working men and women have had a rough go of it lately in the Land of Enchantment. As the chart below indicates, simply finding a job has been difficult. Nonfarm employment peaked at 849,900 in February 2008. By July 2018, it stood at 842,800. That’s correct — no net growth, in over ten years.


And the New Mexicans who do have jobs are not enjoying wage growth. Errors of Enchantment ran the numbers on the last decade of median hourly pay. (Half of workers earn more, half less.) In May 2017, the typical New Mexican made less than he or she did in May 2009 — $16.08 vs. $16.14.

Clearly, if creating jobs and fostering higher incomes constitute the core goal of “economic development,” New Mexico’s elected officials are failing — spectacularly — at their “jobs.”

So enjoy the weekend, dear reader. And once the summer’s over, “work more, not less” to support the people and organizations promoting public-policy reforms that will bring more liberty, opportunity, and prosperity to the Land of Enchantment.

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