How do we solve this one?

How much of a mess is our system?

You tell me.

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I’ve talked recently about how we as a culture devalue jobs that require working with our hands or any kind of manual labor.    We tell every kid they must go to college to succeed.  Translation?  Kids who don’t go to college are failures.   Not true of course, but so ingrained in our psyche that to some degree it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for many.

We also have a problem with poverty.

The combination of poverty and our prejudice against certain types of work has combined to create an impossible situation.

Here is an example.   Say you are a restaurant owner in New York City.   You need not only skilled servers but also busboys, dishwashers and delivery guys.   You’ve repeatedly attempted to hire U.S. citizens to do the work, but the results are dismal.  The people you’ve hired come in late, repeatedly don’t show up or  blatantly steal from you.   They are of course fired but their replacements are no better.

I hear people talk about these types of situations all the time, in very lofty tones, saying what a travesty it is that “those people” don’t value work or a job well done.

Hmmm, why do you suppose that is when all they’ve heard in school their entire lives is that the only success, the only “career” worth having, comes from a college degree?   They didn’t go to college so any work they might get isn’t worthwhile.  That’s not an idea they came up with on their own – it’s been shoved down their throats since their first day in school.   Would YOU value a job you’d been taught is only given to losers?

And then.

We add another ingredient to this hot mess.   Immigrants.

Whether they are here because they snuck in, or simply overstayed their tourist visas, most illegal immigrants desperately want to be in our country.   The vast majority also want to work, and guess what types of jobs they are willing to do?   Well, anything, really.

As an employer, who would you rather hire?   Someone who thinks your job is for losers (because that’s what they’ve been taught) or a person who is dedicated, shows up early and never misses a day?


We make it impossible for such immigrants, working as laborers, mechanics or locksmiths, to get legal work papers.   Their employer can’t sponsor them because it’s not a skilled position and how hard can it possibly be to hire a busboy?  There are thousands of legal workers who could do that job.   Maybe they could, but good luck finding any who would.  So the immigrant who has overstayed a visa but who is working, paying rent and hoping to build a life here and become a taxpaying citizen?   He or she becomes desperate, because all roads to work papers are closed.

There is one option.  But it’s fraud.

However, desperate people do desperate things, and so they try to get papers the only way they can; by buying them on the black market.

Sometimes they are caught.  And these people, whose only real crime is that they want so badly to be here they’ll work any job and do anything, are sent to prison and then deported.

Meanwhile we continue to tell our kids that the only road to success is doing well in school, getting a college degree – probably a masters too – and pursuing a “career”.    Kids who don’t do well in school, starting in first grade, are labelled as ‘troubled’ or less intelligent.   They learn one lesson very well – they are failures and will never amount to anything.   Forget a career – it’s bussing tables or cutting keys for them – so why take pride in a “dead end” job?

Suggestions on how to solve this one, anyone?




4 comments on “How do we solve this one?

  1. becca says:

    There are a lot of jobs in the food supply chain- less than 15% pay a living wage (
    So at least in this particular industry, I suspect when people whine about not being able to get dedicated workers, it’s not necessarily because legal citizens are unwilling to do the jobs… it’s just that few legal citizens are willing to do those jobs well for the wages offered. It’s awfully hard to “value a job” for $8.72/hour ( when you’ve got to support a family.
    (I am, in part, sympathetic to the argument that as long as the public is demanding $4 hamburgers from a restaurant, it’s awfully hard to find enough money to pay your busboys a living wage.)

    • Amy says:

      Hi Becca,

      You are correct. It is a vicious circle – we don’t offer a good wage for what we consider to be “menial” jobs. (And it’s true that employers often can’t afford to pay more for such work, which is another piece in this messy puzzle.) They are leftovers for the people who couldn’t “make it” in a “real” career. At least that’s the attitude.

      We obviously can’t change everything overnight, but perhaps if we stopped placing value solely on careers obtained by way of a college degree, it would be a good place to start.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Steven Davis says:

    1. Stop defining value of people by what their work is.

    (If we really took a look at the “work” that many of us do with our expensively acquired Master’s degrees, we might have some other questions to ask. Go look at your last week at work and consider what you did, how you spent your time, and what you achieved… I’ll wait.)

    2. Pay everyone who works a living wage.

    3. Make employers seriously accountable for hiring illegal workers and treating ANY worker badly (legal or not). No slaps on the wrist. Real jail time. Real financial penalties (triple damages or whatever).

    One of the biggest problems we are facing as a society today is that businesses are automating away workers like mad. Employment has always been a byproduct of business, not its purpose.

    More and more blue and white collar jobs are just going away.

    Paper and Styrofoam plates eliminate a lot of busboys and dishwashers… why do you think businesses use them? Computers eliminate secretaries (by the way, back when I was doing senior technical work, I was my own secretary because it was “cheaper”, even though I was much less productive… because I was being charged out by the hour). Airplanes now have 2 flight crew instead of 3. Soon there will be no crew at all. CNC machines and 3D printers are probably going to eliminate a lot of retail jobs and supply chain people… you don’t need warehouses and their staff if you are “printing on demand”.

    We are at the beginning of one of the most radical revolutions in human society. One that makes the industrial revolution look like a cake walk. The distance between a business idea and a product or service is almost invisible and nearly free… but who will be left as customers?

    Hello, Ned Ludd.

    • Amy says:

      Hi Steven,

      I agree with a lot of what you say. About defining people by what their work is, I think that wouldn’t be so bad if we were all allowed to do what we love and be proud of it. But we’re not. The ultimate goal should be for people to enjoy what they do so much that it doesn’t feel like work. And that is possible – even if what you do is wash dishes. Such a scenario is difficult to imagine (someone who takes pride in and loves dishwashing) because we have all been trained and in turn are training our kids to believe such work is beneath them. Which brings me to my next point. You cannot punish employers for hiring illegal immigrants until you fix the problem of legal workers not wanting to do the work available to them. Until we are, as a society, willing to put value – both intrinsic and monetary – on jobs such as bussing tables, we cannot penalize business owners for hiring the people who will help their business survive. I’m not talking running a sweat shop. I’m just talking making enough of a profit to support the business and its’ workers. New York City would shut down if illegal workers were removed from their positions, and there would be no one to replace them. Which goes back to how we currently teach kids.

      Our immigration policy is another contributing issue; unless you give people who want to work a path to being legal, you make criminals of the very people we should want to have here; entrepreneurial minded souls who are willing to work hard from the bottom up. Perfect examples for any kid. Except of course we teach kids to look down on ‘menial’ labor and those who do it, not to mention a lack of empathy for anyone who is here illegally.

      Automation is yet another issue, but I think that if we shift focus to the things we need – renewable energy springs to mind – we would be able to replace those jobs with others that are equally if not more vital.

      None of these things will happen, however, until children are allowed to follow their passions and are supported in them, even if they don’t lead to a 4 year degree. Until we change our minds about what makes a person successful and convey it to our kids through actions and not just words, the spiral will ever be downward.

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