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A Labor Day Wish List … for Workers in the Twenty-First Century

ALPERN AT LARGE--You've heard it before--Labor Day is too often a holiday of barbecues, the un-official end of summer, and a time for family gatherings more than the actual celebration of labor.

So rather than repeat and rehash the familiar statement of "remember the true meaning of Labor Day!"  it's probably best to move forward.

So, what do we do AFTER Labor Day?

1) Confront the fact that some of us choose to work more hours than others.

This is not to say that someone who works 80 or more hours a week is a "better person" than someone who works 40 hours a week. This is not to say that working more hours will always make you wealthier. This is not to say that some jobs pay more than others because it's "fair".

But Reality is Real. Some of us by nature work harder than others. Some of us choose fields that--for whatever reason--pay more than others. Furthermore, with the understanding that more money does NOT make you a better person, if two people in the same field work different hours then it's likely that the one who works more hours will make more money.

It's incumbent upon us all to not be too jealous of the hard work (and perhaps any success that goes with that) of others, and it's also incumbent upon us all to not belittle those of us who choose to work less to enjoy life and family and free time (so long as they're self-supporting and not a burden to the rest of us).

2) Confront the fact that some jobs don't get much pay, or get any pay, but it's STILL work and labor.

Raising a child, and taking care of a sick and/or elderly relative or neighbor, is just as important as going to work and getting a paycheck. 

There's no shortage of studies and calculations that show the fiscal worth of a housewife or house-husband. Taking care of the kids or the elderly or sick is just not as valued as a job that brings home a paycheck, and we often refer to these individuals taking care of others as "non-working". 

We don't have to be "politically correct" to recognize this, and to consider how best to address those taking of care of others who can't take care of themselves.

Teachers, social workers, home health professionals and the like don't often get much pay...but where on earth would we be without them.

3) Confront the fact that we're not saving enough for our retirement, and to not over-rely on the government to take care of you.

Ask someone else to "take care of you", and you may not like how you're "taken care of".

There's quite a few reasons why public sector government unions demand to be separated from Social Security with respect to retirement. 

Because everyone with a brain knows that at best Social Security is a supplement, if not a ponzi scheme, with respect to retirement planning. It's a tax into the general fund, and it is not invested as we see pension plans invested. For the amount a worker puts into the system, he/she gets precious little back in return.

And until we have leaders willing to find the spine, plans, and right message to the American people, we will suffer and let some of us retire well while the rest of us work virtually until we drop dead. 

Or if we can retire, those retirement years might be both painful and few.

If you're NOT putting away 10-15% of all your earnings for retirement, even in your twenties (especially in your twenties!), you will bitterly regret it later in life.

That is called "Financial Literacy" and is much of what separates a child from an adult. It's never too soon or too late to be "Fiscally Literate", but the earlier the better. 

4) Confront the fact that if you don't know the examples of Chile and Galveston, TX, and you don't know the meaning of the number "72", you might not be on your way to a successful work/retirement plan.

If Chile can figure out how to yank 10% of a worker's monthly earnings, and offer them a public vs. a private choice on how to invest that money (like our public sector workers do to get out of Social Security withdrawals), then why on earth can't the United States do the same?

Here at home, Galveston and neighboring counties had their public workers pull out of Social Security to create their own required-but-privately-run system. They are doing much better than the rest of us who pay into Social Security, and we're going to have to figure out how to live just as well--through hard work and sacrifice and a sense of fairness.

As for the number "72", that is the magic number you need to divide your earning percentage into to determine how long it takes for your investment to double (presuming you leave that investment ALONE). It's called the Rule of 72

In other words, a mutual fund (do you know what that is?) that earns 6% a year will double in 12 years (6 x 12 equals 72). $1000 in 12 years becomes $2000, and in 24 years becomes $4000, and in 36 years becomes $8000.

A stock or other investment averaging an 8% return double in 9 years (72 divided by 8 equals 9). $1000 in 9 years becomes $2000, and in 18 years becomes $4000, and in 27 years becomes $8000, and in 36 years becomes $16,000.

So, the earlier you invest, the more money you will have in retirement--and a sure-shot way to be poor as hell in retirement is to wait until your fifties to think about retirement.

5) Confront the fact that affordable housing and the cost of both medicine and higher education is bleeding us all dry, and it must end.

So long as our elected leaders and civic leaders are overseeing the higher costs of all this, we are going to all fall down and become a society of have's and have-not's.

Whether it's capitalism or socialism, or a bit of both, the costs of affordable housing MUST be promoted. If your city or state is too damned expensive, then get the hell out while you can and save yourself.

Whether it's the RICO Act or more generic alternatives to medicine, and/or greater accountability of pharmaceutical groups, medical groups, and/or hospital groups, we will be destroyed as a society if we can't slow the cost of health care down.

Whether it's an end to federal/state financial support of certain cost-ineffective universities, and/or more publishing of which universities are cost-effective compared to others, and/or greater transparency in why the cost of education keeps going up, we will saddle our youth with more debt than they can possibly get out of.

If your major leads to no jobs, then double-major. If your major is fun but has no subsequent employment opportunities, then choose a different major. If your university has no job counsellors to prepare you for the real world, then go to a different one. And if the university is unaffordable, then to hell with it.

THESE are the issues, or at least some of them, for us all to confront in our modern day and modern era. Too many of us work hard only to have the fruits of our incessant labor get yanked away from us and unfairly enrich someone else. Celebrating labor is vital in our nation, and in our world.

But the fruit of that labor is something we all deserve, or at least deserve more than what we're seeing in the twenty-first century.

With that in mind...Happy Labor Day!

(CityWatch Columnist, Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D, is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud husband and father to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. He was (termed out) also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Outreach Committee, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee and Vice-Chair of its Planning Committee. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition and can be reached at Ken.Alpern@MarVista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

-cw