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Labor Day salutes nation's backbone

The unofficial end of summer is here with a three-day hurrah that was designed to honor the working American -- Labor Day.

And after years of stubborn economic malaise, working folks who are making a decent wage with good benefits can all agree on one thing -- it's good to be in that position.

Many of our fellow Americans still aren't. While jobs have been growing at an average of about 151,000 a month this year after growing at 153,000 a month in 2011, that's still less than what is needed to have any effect on the unemployment number, which registered 8.3 percent joblessness in July. The picture is worse than that, though, since those who have become dispirited in their attempts to find employment don't count toward that percentage, nor do those who are working jobs that are below their qualifications.

The numbers are worse in Georgia, where our state's jobless rate in July was 9.3 percent, up from 9 percent in June. In the five county metro Albany area -- Dougherty, Lee, Baker, Worth and Terrell counties -- the rate for July was 10.5 percent, up from 10.3 percent in June.

Across the county, we have 12.8 million Americans who want to work but who can't find jobs. More than 40 percent of those -- 5.2 million -- have been job hunting for more than two years.

While that all points to, among other things, failures in a grid-locked, self-absorbed federal government, it also emphasizes how fortunate those who have avoided joining the ranks of the unemployed are.

Labor Day was started more than a century ago, officially becoming a federal holiday in 1894 after the first local celebration 12 years earlier in New York City. It is an annual tribute to the workers who contribute to the fiscal health and well being of the United States, the people who buy homes and cars, send their kids to college, buy groceries and goods from local merchants and pay the taxes that keep local, state and federal governments operating, if often dysfunctionally.

Never has a smaller percentage of the U.S. population been engaged in work. And never have their contributions been more needed than today.

With the presidential election bearing down, we don't expect much progress from Capitol Hill in the near term. Once the ballots are counted and the die is cast for 2013 any beyond, we can only hope they get back to the business of the people and accomplish some important work, not the least of which is heading off this self-prescribed economic poison pill of across-the-board spending cuts that both parties supported, but neither party wants.

Lawmakers, presidents, bureaucrats and lobbyists all could learn a lesson from the average American worker who shows up on time and does his or her job well. Whether that work is performed in an office, on a farm, in a plant or at a retail counter, each is a vital cog in the nation's economic engine.

The American worker deserves to be saluted and, with any luck, we'll have a lot more workers to salute on the next Labor Day weekend.