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GUEST OPINION: Labor Day needs to be refocused


Could there be a more perfect symbol of what is wrong with the American economy than what took place on Sept. 5 in Detroit? A president of the United States whose regulatory excesses have stifled meaningful job creation made a Labor Day speech to union workers who are only a faint representation of their former numbers in a city whose major industries were rescued not by innovation, but by a massive Berlin airlift of taxpayer dollars.

It’s not time to junk Labor Day as a federal holiday. It’s time to honor the real labor rolling up its sleeves and pulling the rickety buckboards of the American and Iowa economic wagons: small business owners and the self-employed.

Established in 1894 to honor the contributions of union workers, Labor Day is now only a distant echo of the numbers it once stood for. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “the union membership rate … was 11.9 percent, down from 12.3 percent a year earlier.” This statistic includes both government and private-sector union members.

Pull unionized government employees from the 11.9 percent, and the rate of union members working at private enterprises falls to 6.9 percent. By comparison, according to BLS economist Steven Hipple, “In 2009, 15.3 million individuals were self-employed, including both those who had incorporated their businesses and those who had not. The self-employment rate … was 10.9 percent.”

The new labor in need of a new Labor Day has different needs – needs that their federal and state governments can either help or hinder to the economy’s benefit or peril.

As a professional advocate for small business owners, I’m glad to see states, including ours, finally getting it and beginning the bipartisan effort necessary to address the particular needs of that linchpin of all economies: Main Street, mom-and-pop shops. The formula for a successful and thriving small business economy can be summarized in three goals: low taxes, minimal regulations and a legal environment that discourages frivolous lawsuits.

In Des Moines this year, the National Federation of Independent Business worked with lawmakers from both parties and various coalitions to:

• Stop extension of unemployment benefits that would have pushed unemployment benefits beyond 86 weeks for some Iowans, costing an additional $34 million.

• Prevent state agencies from enforcing regulations more stringent than federal standards.

• Retain Iowa’s 99 percent budget spending limit, saving small business owners from future tax increases.

These victories send a strong signal that all of us are serious about putting out the welcome mat to enterprises considering setting up shop in Iowa and telling businesses already here that it’s time to dust off those expansion plans.

Kristin Kunert is Iowa state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

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