Thomas Sowell

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 a year.

 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 welfare.

 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 rising economically.

 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 route.

 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 life.

 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.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate