08/28/2013 04:32 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2013

Labor Day Musing

Labor Day is here again, and for many of us that means the end of summer, back to school, and mattress sales. While we may have a picnic or visit with friends, we seem to treat it as a lesser holiday. There is no traditional food, no parade, and no fireworks to celebrate the day, but it should be an important day to reflect.

Observed on the first Monday in September -- since 1894 -- Labor Day is a federal holiday to celebrate the economic and social contributions of workers. This year we are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for economic justice and jobs -- which culminated with Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech. A look at the numbers shows that great strides have been made, but the struggle continues. The current, overall, unemployment rate is 7.4 percent but the numbers are much worse for specific demographics. The black unemployment rate is nearly double the overall rate at 13.4 percent, and the Latino unemployment rate is 9.4 percent. If you add in the number of workers who are underemployed, it's clear to see that a large number of Americans will hardly be celebrating.

With kids back in school, many teens will be thinking of getting a part-time job to help supplement their allowance or to save for a car. Because of economic conditions, for some families, there may be no choice but for the child to contribute to the household income if possible. While I am a strong advocate of teens working a full-time summer job and even some weekend work during the school year, I don't believe that an after-school job is a good idea. Parents, you need to help your children balance work, school and time off.

The Time Budget
Sleep is the foundation upon which our mental and physical health are built. If you can judge by the amount of TV advertising for potions and prescriptions, nobody gets enough sleep these days -- but teenagers especially need their sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need 8.5 to 9.25 hours a night. This means that sleep time is budgeted as a fixed time allocation. School hours are also non-negotiable. Your kids have to go to school. They must not miss days or cut classes because of the demands of a job.

Homework, extracurricular activities and household responsibilities can be variable time allocations but they have to be counted realistically -- these can't be shortchanged.

Time off means free time. This is time just for the teen which doesn't have to be accounted for. Everyone deserves a certain amount of down time, whether it's time to take a bike ride or read a teen magazine. How the time is used is up to the teen but it must be included in the budget.

If you add all this required time, it's easy to see that there isn't much left for an after-school job.

Education is the Key
This is the time for parents to refocus your child's attention to the importance of education. With the economic trends, the competition for jobs is serious. But, even in better times, the more education our children complete, the higher their lifetime average earnings will be.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics points out that the financial benefit of education is clear. Without a high school diploma the median weekly earning is $471. With a high school diploma (or GED), that number jumps to $652. An Associate degree brings the median salary to $785 and a Bachelor's degree to $1,066. A doctorate degree comes in at $1,624.

Tips to Teach
  • Instill a good work ethic from the time your kids are young. Talk to them about your job/career, and explain why you go to work each day.
  • We are not our jobs and we are not defined by the material possessions we accumulate.
  • Education is of vital importance and includes traditional, vocational, and junior college.
  • Teach the history of labor and labor movements.
  • Charity and giving back.

Make this Labor Day more than just a place holder date on the calendar. If you are employed, be thankful for the job you have. Remember those without jobs. Acknowledge those who fought for equality, fair pay, and a safe workplace. It is also a good time to give back to the less fortunate with a charitable act that involves your family -- donate time, or money, or food to a shelter or food pantry.

Please share your Labor Day thoughts or memories in the space provided.