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Labor Day 2005

September 06, 2005

The day after Labor Day, a day when most people return to work, seems a fitting time to reflect on the state of America's working men and women.

In an April article, the Columbia News Service, affiliated with the Columbia School of Journalism, reported that all recent research concludes that Americans far exceed the standard 40-hour work week.

In addition, CNS reported that the last time the U.S. Department of Labor did a study of time off, it found that the average American took only nine days vacation a year.

Working people may hesitate to leave the workplace for more extended stays because the time they spend commuting to their jobs continues to increase.

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The U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, also released in April, found that Americans spend more than 100 hours per month commuting to work.

Significantly, the average Marylander's commute - 30.2 minutes - was just behind the No. 1 commuter state, New York, whose workers average 30.4 minutes.

No doubt there are some people who would love to spend "only" 30.2 minutes traveling to their jobs. Based on Tamela Baker's article in this past Sunday's edition of The Herald-Mail, some of the new residents of Washington County are spending an hour or more commuting one way.

We note these things because they are a concern, for a couple of reasons.

Time spent on the road is time that can't be spent with family or in contributing to the community by volunteering to help with youth activities such as sports or Scouting.

And the more people who commute, the more gasoline their vehicles burn and the more the air quality of the area is adversely affected.

Now, as Washington County continues to grow, two things need to happen. First, county officials need to survey those leaving the area from park-and-ride lots or by train, if they haven't done so already. Talk to them and get a handle on what skills they take to their jobs. Then ask them what sort of salary they would need to justify staying here.

Armed with that information, county officials could then market this labor force to potential new employers.

It may or may not work, but we are concerned that some of the brightest people who live in Washington County can't contribute more to the community because they spend so much time traveling to work outside the county. Let's try to keep them and their brainpower at home.

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