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Tom Donohue: Honoring the American Workforce — Our Most Valuable Asset

For more than 100 years, our nation has set aside the first Monday in September to pay tribute to American workers and acknowledge the vital role they play in our economy and society. Our workers are the most innovative, creative, productive and industrious on the planet. And they deserve a whole lot more than just a day off and a pat on the back!

The most important way we can honor our employees is to make sure that on the other 364 days of the year they are fulfilled in their work, earn a good wage, are able to provide for their families, and have the resources and support to lead healthy and comfortable lives.

Contrary to what some anti-business forces suggest, the relationship between the business community and American workers is healthy and thriving. It’s built on a strong foundation of trust, support and mutual benefit. And it’s overwhelmingly achieved without the involvement of intermediaries, such as labor unions, which have seen their enrollment rates fall to 11.3 percent overall and 6.6 percent in the private sector.

Business leaders know that our workforce is our most valuable asset, and it’s smart to invest generously in the hardworking men and women who drive our economy.

Last year, U.S. employers spent $8.6 trillion on total compensation, including $6.9 trillion on direct wages and salaries. In 2012, nearly 150 million Americans received employer-sponsored health insurance from the private sector. Employees received an average of $10,558 in health-care benefits. Almost 50 percent of companies with 500 or more workers offered workplace wellness programs and provided financial incentives to encourage employees to lead healthier lifestyles. This year, 61 percent of companies are making undergraduate educational assistance available, and another 59 percent are helping employees pay for graduate school.

Businesses also help workers save and plan for the future. Private employers spent $218 billion on retirement income benefits in 2012, including the popular defined contribution plans, profit-sharing structures and investment advice. Life insurance is also offered to more than half of all employees in private industry, enabling them to protect their families in the event of tragedy.

A final way we can honor the American worker is to ensure that anyone who wants to work can find a good job and reap the benefits of steady, meaningful employment. There are still some 23 million Americans who are unemployed, underemployed or have given up looking for work. With the right policies and real leadership from Washington, we can drive stronger growth that will allow U.S. businesses to add to the payrolls and create more opportunities for all workers.

For more free market news and ideas, visit

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are his own.

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