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By Dennis Parker, Director, ACLU Racial Justice Program

Widely regarded as the last opportunity to enjoy summer with  a three-day weekend of cookouts and trips to the beach, Labor Day, the United  States Department of Labor’s website informs us, was originally intended as "a  yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength,  prosperity, and well-being of the country". Ironically, this year’s tribute  comes in the form of the announcement that the national unemployment rate has  reached 9.7 percent, its highest level in 26 years. The increasing unemployment  rate is one of the most disturbing results of the economic recession which  became the subject of newspaper articles a little more than a year ago.

The consequences of the current economic crisis are serious  for the nation as a whole but are particularly critical for communities of  color. On its website, www.fairrecovery.org,  in which the ACLU participates as a partner, the Kirwan Institute for Race and  Ethnicity reports that although the nation has been in a recession for a little  more than a year, communities of color have been experiencing a recession for  nearly five years and, in the course of the last year, have moved into a  depression. If the terms "recession" and "depression" are too abstract, the  unemployment statistics are clear and concrete. While the rest of the country  watches apprehensively as overall unemployment figures approach 10 percent,  communities of color have been experiencing double-digit unemployment for some  time.

In July, 2009, Latino unemployment levels stood at 12.2  percent while the unemployment rate of African-Americans was 14.7 percent. Sadly, even being employed is no guarantee of  opportunity for people of color because of the fact that they are far more  likely to be employed in low-wage jobs. For these workers, many of whom are  immigrants, wage  theft and exploitation runs rampant. Three discrete groups  are particularly vulnerable to abuse, discrimination, and human rights  violations (PDF): domestic and agricultural workers,  temporary workers (or guestworkers),  and undocumented workers.

Not all of the news is bad, however. In fact, the increase  in the unemployment rate appears to be slowing enough for Jared Bernstein, one  of Vice President Joe Biden’s economic advisors, to remark that "[t]he overall  message in these numbers is that we’re headed in the right direction but we’re  far from out of the woods." Many economists believe that the infusion of  federal stimulus funds may have insulated the economy from even more serious  negative consequences.

If that is true, it is especially important that the  positive effects of stimulus funds be felt by everyone in the nation,  particularly those segments of the population who started the recession behind  the rest of the nation and have been particularly battered by the effects of  the recession. For that reason, the fairrecovery.org website was created to  facilitate the effort to use stimulus funding as a means of assuring equal  opportunity for all.

Labor Day serves as a reminder of the way that employment  remains an area in which there is inequality and by which "the strength,  prosperity and well-being of the nation" can be strengthened and reinforced by efforts  to assure that all communities are given the opportunity to enjoy the full  benefits of their labor.

Originally posted to ACLU on Mon Sep 07, 2009 at 06:38 AM PDT.

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