Monday is Labor Day.
Federal law made it a national holiday in 1894 to celebrate organized labor and celebrate the American worker. Most people, however, likely see it more as a chance to take a mini-vacation or simply enjoy the extra day off from work.
In both cases, however, this year offers less to celebrate than that to which we’re accustomed.
Many people find themselves out of work, and many more have to live with reduced hours due to business closures forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently our national unemployment rate is around 8.4, more than double what it was a year ago. Locally, the jobless rate for July climbed to 11% in Cameron County, 12.5% in Hidalgo County and has high as 17.6% in Starr County.
That’s not much to celebrate.
Worse, the pandemic has limited the options for those who wanted to take an extended break.
Stay-at-home orders and requests remain in effect. Businesses and many parks and beaches remain closed.
Even those who simply wanted to drive out of town to visit family or friends might have faced resistance if those relatives are elderly, have compromised immune systems or other medical conditions that have inspired fear of catching the viral infection that already has killed thousands.
Fortunately, good news might be on the horizon. Infection rates remain high, but they are beginning to fall. The unemployment rate has been improving for the past several weeks, and economics experts are expressing hopes that the risk of catching the virus keeps lessening and we can begin to reopen many businesses soon. Once those businesses are able to open their doors, they will be able to fill vacant positions.
We got a glimpse of what to expect in late April and May, when a partial opening of the economy was allowed.
Employment and other indicators surged before the pandemic rebounded and new closures were ordered.
More promising is the fact that those numbers have started improving again in recent weeks, although they are leveling off.
To be sure, most businesses likely will try to rehire the same people who held them before the closures.
Many of those workers, however, no longer will be available, having found other employment during the shutdown — after all, they still had to feed their families and pay the bills.
More promising for the Rio Grande Valley and similar areas is the expected rebound of tourism and hospitality industries, including the restaurant and retail industries, as people who have felt cooped up in their homes all summer head to the beach, the border and other popular areas.
Even better, the mild South Texas climate and wealth of wildlife and other natural wonders should be a draw for visitors throughout the winter.
So yes, Labor Day 2020 will be a downer for many people who have endured lost jobs, lost freedoms and even perhaps lost health to the coronavirus. Let it be tempered, however, with the hope that our lives will improve soon, and that this will be the worst holiday we’ll ever remember.