Jewish World Review June 13, 2005 / 6 Sivan,
Liberals and class: Part III
Sometimes it seems as if liberals have a genius for producing an
unending stream of ideas that are counterproductive for the poor, whom they
claim to be helping. Few of these notions are more counterproductive than
the idea of "menial work" or "dead-end jobs."
Think about it: Why do employers pay people to do "menial" work?
Because the work has to be done. What useful purpose is served by
stigmatizing work that someone is going to have to do anyway?
Is emptying bed pans in a hospital menial work? What would happen if
bed pans didn't get emptied? Let people stop emptying bed pans for a month
and there would be bigger problems than if sociologists stopped working for
Having someone who can come into a home to clean and cook and do minor
chores around the house can be a godsend to someone who is an invalid or who
is suffering the infirmities of age and who does not want to be put into
an institution. Someone who can be trusted to take care of small children is
likewise a treasure.
Many people who do these kinds of jobs do not have the education,
skills or experience to do more complex kinds of work. Yet they can make a
real contribution to society while earning money that keeps them off
Many low-level jobs are called "dead-end jobs" by liberal intellectuals
because these jobs have no promotions ladder. But it is superficial beyond
words to say that this means that people in such jobs have no prospect of
Many people at all levels of society, including the richest, have at
some point or other worked at jobs that had no promotions ladder, so-called
"dead-end jobs." The founder of the NBC network began work as a teenager
hawking newspapers on the streets. Billionaire Ross Perot began with a paper
You don't get promoted from such jobs. You use the experience,
initiative, and discipline that you develop in such work to move on to
something else that may be wholly different. People who start out flipping
hamburgers at McDonald's seldom stay there for a full year, much less for
Dead-end jobs are the kinds of jobs I have had all my life. But, even
though I started out delivering groceries in Harlem, I don't deliver
groceries there any more. I moved on to other jobs most of which have not
had any promotions ladders.
My only official promotion in more than half a century of working was
from associate professor to full professor at UCLA. But that was really just
a pay increase, rather than a real promotion, because associate professors
and full professors do the same work.
Notions of menial jobs and dead-end jobs may be just shallow
misconceptions among the intelligentsia but they are a deadly
counterproductive message to the poor. Refusing to get on the bottom rung of
the ladder usually means losing your chance to move up the ladder.
Welfare can give you money but it cannot give you job experience that
will move you ahead economically. Selling drugs on the streets can get you
more money than welfare but it cannot give you experience that you can put
on a job application. And if you decide to sell drugs all your life, that
life can be very short.
What they paid him would probably be dismissed today as "chump change."
But what Paul Williams wanted from that company was knowledge and
experience, more so than money.
He went on to create his own architectural company, designing
everything from churches and banks to mansions for movie stars and
contributing to the design of the theme building at Los Angeles
The real chumps are those who refuse to start at the bottom for "chump
change." Liberals who encourage such attitudes may think of themselves as
friends of the poor but they do more harm than enemies.
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