More than 135 years ago, the Central Labor Union in New York proposed a holiday to honor the efforts of their members. The holiday included a picnic and a demonstration by union members.

Within a few years, the idea of a holiday dedicated to the working men and women of the country started to catch on.

Labor Day was observed in many of the industrial cities across the country, according to information from the U.S. Department of Labor. Oregon became the first state to recognize the day, in 1887. Within seven years, more than 25 states marked Labor Day and Congress made the first Monday in September a holiday in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. territories.

The original method of celebrating the day was a parade that included representatives of labor unions and trade organizations, and it remains the way we celebrate Labor Day now. Parades are planned for Monday morning in Danville and Westville.

The strength, ingenuity and skill of American workers deserves to be recognized. The efforts of organized labor during the past two centuries have made significant contributions to the quality of life not only in this nation but around the world. American-made products still ranks among the world’s best, and the level of research and development that yields innovative products can be matched by few others.

American workers have pushed poverty away from the doors of many, although there remains much work to be done.

The U.S. government considers a family of four to live in poverty if the household’s income is less than $25,100 a year — an increase from 18,850 15 years ago. That’s roughly the equivalent of $12.07 an hour for one person. While that number continues to increase, a family trying to live on that amount will have a tough time. Assuming modest payments for housing, a car and food, a family making that amount would have little to spend on clothes, shoes, gasoline and health insurance.

The number emphasizes the need for more job training, of better governmental support for those who want to extend their education beyond high school and for more help for single-parent families.

Jobs are there. Opportunities do exist. But the job market has changed dramatically since that first Labor Day. A strong back and a willingness to work long hours no longer serves as a guarantee for a good job. Education in specific skills or in college now paves the way toward a good job.

A free public education was a cornerstone of America’s rise to become a world power. It remains a key to the nation’s future. U.S. leaders should recognize that fact and create a way to keep America’s workers on the job.

Editor’s note: A version of this editorial first appeared in 2004 in the Commercial-News.

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