Menial Work & Dead-End Jobs

by Jimmy Akin

in Economics

The problem with the current administration’s economic policies is that it dooms people to taking dead-end jobs consisting of menial work.

This is simply unjust. Menial work is beneath human dignity, and everyone should be able to get a promotion to a higher position without changing employers.

What we ought to do is adopt policies that would eliminate menial work in our lifetime and ensure a promising promotional path for every job in the economy. Right?

THOMAS SOWELL HAS THE SMACKDOWN.

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{ 28 comments }

Mark Brumley June 12, 2005 at 8:45 am

One and a half cheers for Thomas Sowell.

Edward June 12, 2005 at 9:37 am

Jimmy,
Given the actual content of Mr. Sowell’s piece, is it correct to conclude that your comments above are facetious? ;-)

Jimmy Akin June 12, 2005 at 9:48 am

You mean we shouldn’t *actually* end all menial work and ensure a promotional path for every job in the economy?
Why not!

Liam June 12, 2005 at 1:12 pm

The premise has two distinct parts: (1) the issue of so-called menial work (which is not necessarily an affront to human dignity, BUT more than a few companies manage these jobs in a way that is an affront to such), and (2) the issue of no or limited mobility. The real focus of the issue is the latter, which Sowell blithely elides with an oddly (for him) “up with people”/Horatio Alger kind of parable. That is as cheap as the complaint.
Limited mobility has become more of an issue for many people who have been regularly thwarted, not just by life in general, but by their employers who want desperately to keep them where they are in their forays into acquiring new skills and knowledge — if you have never worked for such an employer, count your blessings but don’t VULGAR REFERENCE DELETED those who have by relegating their reality to fantasy. I know people like this, including family members (and no one in my family views each other with rosy glasses on this score, mind you) and friends.

Mary June 12, 2005 at 1:35 pm

Except that such people would not be helped at all by “ending menial jobs.” Their employers would still want to keep them where they are.

Other Eric June 12, 2005 at 2:44 pm

Hi Liam!
Most of the jobs that I’ve had have been menial jobs as well. Waiter, janitor, stock clerk and, to a certain extent, IT technician, are all “hands-on” jobs that afforded me little opportunities for advancement. In the menial jobs that I have held I have never run into an employer who wanted “to keep me where I was in my forays into acquiring new skills and knowledge.” Those types of employers actually didn’t care about me enough. The job did not require much skill and so I was easily replaceable.
The only time I ran into that type of employer was in the jobs where there was an opportunity for advancement. It is at that point that one begins to see non-compete clauses that effectively prevent an employee from seeking work elsewhere and excessive overtime assignments, which essentially amount to free work if you happen to be salaried.
In order for any employer to exert effort in keeping an employee in their place, he has to both care about the skills that the employee has acquired in his work. Otherwise, it’s just not worth it.

M. David June 12, 2005 at 6:56 pm

Sowell and his type are fine with a head-of-household worker not earning a living wage working a blue-collar job. This is, of course, opposed to Catholic teaching.
The Sowell types are always pitting truth against truth – as if we can’t have a free market and real competition while demanding a minimum wage that one can raise a family on in dignity, no matter how ‘low’ this job is. Not long ago, it used to be more like this. Now it no longer is, as blue-collar wages have fallen for 30 years while white-collar have skyrocketed. I know – I’m white collar and it’s nice. But it ain’t Catholic, and it’s anti-family.
One can see the the effect of the Sowell mindset – the denial of social justice – in the rejection of the dignity of man and family that results in divorce, abortion, and cultural decay.

JonathanR. June 12, 2005 at 7:08 pm

Way too much stretching there M. David. What Sowell was simply saying was that there should be no stigma attached to these “menial” jobs simply because they offer an opportunity for work, no matter who you are. Everybody has to start somewhere…and if the poor have to start with these low-level jobs, then so be it. You have to acquire skills before you move on to higher-paying ones. Besides, nobody’s suggesting that you keep the poor in these jobs. These jobs start people out, as Sowell’s examples bear out. Stigmas attached to these jobs drive the poor away from them, leaving them no opportunity to acquire skills for later jobs. After all, climbing the ladder means you start at the bottom rung.

M.Z. Forrest June 12, 2005 at 8:30 pm

Menial work in and of itself is not immoral, but morally neutral. This work has to be done regardless. The problem lies in wages as M. David points out and JonathanR ridicules. Having once belonged to the “free market is our savior” camp at one time, I will make a vain attempt to try to break through the dissent of Catholic teaching. (I am not claiming that this effects someone’s salvation or membership in the Church, although I really don’t think I should have to add this disclaimer.)
The fundamental premise of Catholic social teaching is that a man is entitled to his wages. (cf Deut. 24:14-15; James 5:4, cf Cathechism 1938, 1941) By enterring into a contract with someone, they are our servant. I believe everyone would be offended if a man brought in a servant and deprived him of food. Yet, when society collectively deprives men of wages to provide food and housing, we say that is the way the market works.
Even though I’m only 26, I no longer believe the sky will fall every time we raise the minimum wage as has been promised every time it has occured. Illinois has a higher minimum wage than Wisconsin and has, oddly enough according to free market theorists, seen greater growth than Wisconsin. Even if the minumum wage were raised to $20/hr, the world would not collapse. The menial work mentioned would be assumed by families once again. Many restaurants would close. Auto workers and construction workers wouldn’t be affected, because they already exceed wage. There would still be engineers and attourneys. Our “service” economy would end. Corporate farming and deparment stores would collapse. Family farms would thrive. Family stores would crop up in cities. The standard of living overall would decrease, but the poorest members of society would see their lot improve as assets descended to an affordable level.

Lauda Jerusalem Dominum June 13, 2005 at 8:14 am

. . . and the rate of unemployment would skyrocket.
What is opposed to Catholic teaching is depriving a worker of his just wages, not paying him a low wage. After all, a man has a right to turn down a job (or to quit a job) that he feels isn’t paying him enough.

JonathanR. June 13, 2005 at 9:09 am

“Illinois has a higher minimum wage than Wisconsin and has, oddly enough according to free market theorists, seen greater growth than Wisconsin.”
It is quite possible that the growth of Illinois was sufficient to offset any negative effects of a high minimum wage. A high proliferation of jobs that pay well beyond the minimum wage will nullify any side effect.
On the other hand, in Southeast Asia, the Philippines has the highest minimum wage. It is also the country that suffers most from competition against cheaper wages in China. The sad part is, they’re losing out not only to China, but to other nations like Vietnam as well, despite the relative superiority of the quality of their production.
I am not ridiculing the concept of a just wage. I am ridiculing the stigma placed on menial jobs, which a lot of people want to eliminate without realizing that these jobs will always need people to do them.

Ken Crawford June 13, 2005 at 9:49 am

An interesting associated topic to the “menial job” issue, is automation/robotics. In general, “menial jobs” are the easiest ones to automate specifically because they are menial (i.e. require a great deal of repetitive, thoughtless actions).
Anyone who wants to do away with “menial jobs” should be a big fan of automation/robotics, right? They shouldn’t be against automation because it eliminates jobs, right? Because those “menial jobs” are “contrary to human diginity” and anything we can do to eliminate them is a good thing, right?

Tim J. June 13, 2005 at 10:49 am

The day I received my Masters Degree I went back to work in my temporary job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant. It suited my needs as well as those ot the employer at the time. I needed a job that would bring in enough to help pay our bills (I was married) while I looked for work in my field. I needed a job that I could get quickly and leave quickly, while still making enough to get by. I had very little personal commitment to the job (outside of doing the best I could at it) and the employer had very little personal commitment to me, aside from paying me what he said he would.
I had no desire to “move up” in the business, for that would only have required more energy and commitment to something I had no personal interest in. The more necessary I became to the running of the restaurant, the harder it would have been to quit whenever I needed to. Had I worked my way up to head cook, I would have felt more obliged to stay until they could find a suitable replacement.
The job gave me a little cash while I hunted for real work elsewhere. It helped the restaurant. People had nice clean plates off which to eat, and I never had a job in which I failed to learn something useful.
I’m still the best dishwasher at our house.

Anonymous June 13, 2005 at 2:25 pm

Lauda Jerusalem Dominum -
Silly me… I feel like a fool now. Thank’s for setting me straight.
I thought that I have been fortunate to just HAVE a job the past few years during the post-09/11 economy. And now you are telling us that employers have been deliberately holding wages down (and are justified in doing so), waiting for people to quit their jobs if they felt that it isn’t paying them enough?
I don’t know what world you live in. But that is much easier said than done in today’s economy.

Lauda Jerusalem Dominum June 13, 2005 at 2:52 pm

And now you are telling us that employers have been deliberately holding wages down (and are justified in doing so), waiting for people to quit their jobs if they felt that it isn’t paying them enough?
I don’t know whether they’re deliberately holding them down or not. I don’t think employers are colluding to hold wages down, if that’s what you mean. I think they’re holding them down because they can afford to pay more, because employers have also been affected by the post-9/11 economy. Personally, I’m making the same income that I was 5 years ago, but I don’t imagine that my employer has money to spare to pay me.
I also don’t think employers hold down wages in an attempt to make their employees quit.

Tammy June 13, 2005 at 2:59 pm

I know nobody cares about my 2 cents, but I’ll throw ‘em in anyways. I think raising the minimum wage encourages people to stay in “dead end” jobs. I think it fills them with a sense of entitlement… that they should be entitled to earn “enough” working at that deadend job to support themselves. I’ve worked my fair share of dead end jobs. I’m working one now. There is no upward mobility. But I’m trying to get myself educated, and get skills outside of work to get out. I’m not ENTITLED to the pay I wish, or the lifestyle I wish. I’m entitled to the opportunity to work hard and get it for myself, and that’s about all that’s covered under “life, liberty and the PERSUIT of happiness.” We are so mean to the upper classes (of which I’m nowhere NEAR one) and believe that “the poor” (where i count myself)… are entitled to some of the money “the rich” have earned off of our backs. They’re “menial” jobs because almost anybody can do them. And they NEED to be done to keep society functioning. But there is a time to MOVE ON. My brother qualifies for better jobs, and he isn’t making a whole lot working at the pizza shop, but he’s too afraid to take that leap. And he’s going to keep making his “chump change” until he’s ready to move on. But if minimum wage increased, and he got more… he’d have NO insentive to finish college and get a job that befits his tallents, or is of any sort of challenge to him. Sorry, I’d rather have an opportunity to make it or break it based on my own hard work than a handout. I also know that isn’t the society we live in any more. We don’t live in a world that rewards hard work, we live in a world that punishes hard work. Primary education is FREE. Libraries are FREE. The world is at our fingertips, and all we can do is whine about how we can’t possibly do it, and how the stars arn’t in allignment, and things arn’t EASY. Life aint easy. That’s just the way it is.

M. David June 13, 2005 at 4:03 pm

I have never read more red-herrings in one spot, so much pitting truth-against-truth. To be clear: the free market is good, and menial jobs are fine – nobody argues this. Sowell takes it further though, as do many folk here.
1) Sowell’s arguments are that it’s ok for a guy – this means the head of a family – to work a job that does not pay enough to live on, as that’s what he’s worth. This is against Catholic teaching, period. RED HERRING: We are not talking about ‘types’ of jobs; what’s menial to one is not to another. In reality, it’s the wages that define a job as ‘menial’. Sowell is mudding the water here. RED HERRING: It’s only a temp job, so no prob. NOT TRUE. Any head of household should make enought wages to support a family at ANY job. Period. This is Catholic teaching and simple social justice and is needed for a just society where kids are raised right, even if their father is not too bright.
2) If we actually took Sowell’s points to their conclusion, we would simply get rid of all those pesky workers (and their kids) too dumb to get enough money to make it; he would just let them starve or possibly give them enough charity to get by. EVEN THIS IS AN AFFRONT TO HUMAN DIGNITY. If a man is willing to work, the society should be structured so he earns enough to raise children. Yes, his wages would then have to be subsidized by the more productive and intelligent of us. However, this is Catholic teaching, and it is pro-family. Sowell’s views are not.
3) The fruit of the Sowell philosophy (and the many Sowell gurus here) is that of the mother needing to work and leaving her kids in day care or worse. We have seen this happen since the 50′s, wages have diverged, tax rates have plummeted for the rich, mothers have went to work in huge numbers, divorce has skyrocketed, social problems have exploded, and abortion is king. Ideas have consequences, and the Sowell views lead to a winner-take-all society where we are indeed richer in total, but at what a price.
The ‘pick-n-choose’ Catholics of today are amazing. Be it birth control, abortion, social justice, individualism – the list of dissenting views of American Cathlics against Church teaching is long. No shame anymore.

JonathanR. June 13, 2005 at 5:45 pm

Wow, you claim red herrings and dish enough of your own to start a Swedish smorgasbord.

Lauda Jerusalem Dominum June 13, 2005 at 6:00 pm

However, this is Catholic teaching, and it is pro-family.
Please show how this is Catholic teaching. I’m not necessarily disagreeing but I would like to know your source for it.

M. David June 13, 2005 at 6:31 pm

JonathanR:
Please point out my red-herrings, and I will gladly retract them. There is no need for ad hominem attacks against me – it makes more heat than light.
Lauda:
Pope Leo XIII set out the doctrine of a just wage in 1891 with the encyclical letter Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labor).
Pope John Paul II (plus other popes since Leo XIII) have frequently repeated this call, arguing the importance of social legislation in bringing about the living wage.
But heck, you don’t need to read those popes to know their concern that if we love our neighbors as ourself we would never want a society of not-so-sucessful breadwinners working for wages too low (say at Wal-Mart) to raise his family, while at the same time claiming we are pro-family, pro-child, anti-birth control, and anti-abortion.

Sean S. June 14, 2005 at 7:20 am

Uh, M. David, implying that those disagreeing with you support abortion, birth control, etc. and lumping them into the deragatory category “American Catholics” is enough ad hominem attack to go around.

M. David June 14, 2005 at 8:46 am

Sean S:
You implied that, not me.
I have said that American Catholics are OK with openly disagreeing with Catholic teaching on the points of social justice, abortion, and birth control. This does NOT imply that one who disagrees with only one of those issues disagrees with the others. Your comment, however, is clearly and directly ad hominem; my “implication” is in your mind only, not in mine. I could just as easily claim you “implied” anything I wanted.
So you can understand my point, what make those issues united is that American Catholics are willing to OPENLY disagree with them, not that a particular Catholic agrees with all three openly. E.g., You don’t hear ACs being openly racist or openly supporting murder – they don’t fight those Church teachings like they do abortion, birth control, and social justice. And yes, American Catholics are the ones who disagree with them – I don’t meet many Africans or South American Catholics (I have worked with both) arguing for birth control, abortion, and social injustice like I do fellow American (and European) Catholics.

Sean S. June 14, 2005 at 1:48 pm

“Ad hominem” is saying thing’s like “My opponent is an idiot” or saying “my opponent supports abortion” with intent to deride. Pointing out a problem in another’s argument is not ad hominem.
You just established a category–”American Catholics”–and then went on to say, without any distinction, that American Catholics are okay with open opposition to Church teaching. I am an American Catholic. Therefore, by your statements, I must be okay with dissent.
That’s incorrect. I am not “OK” with that. And I am an American Catholic. What your words actually say is that all American Catholics openly defy the Church. That’s almost certainly not what you meant, but that’s what your words say.

Sean S. June 14, 2005 at 1:49 pm

“Ad hominem” is saying thing’s like “My opponent is an idiot” or saying “my opponent supports abortion” with intent to deride. Pointing out a problem in another’s argument is not ad hominem.
You just established a category–”American Catholics”–and then went on to say, without any distinction, that American Catholics are okay with open opposition to Church teaching. I am an American Catholic. Therefore, by your statements, I must be okay with dissent.
That’s incorrect. I am not “OK” with that. And I am an American Catholic. What your words actually say is that all American Catholics openly defy the Church. That’s almost certainly not what you meant, but that’s what your words say.

Sean S. June 14, 2005 at 1:50 pm

Ack! Sorry about the double post…

Paul Druce June 14, 2005 at 4:44 pm

“Any head of household should make enought wages to support a family at ANY job. Period. This is Catholic teaching and simple social justice and is needed for a just society where kids are raised right, even if their father is not too bright.”
1. Please show me where that is Catholic teaching.
2. Define support. I consider “enough to support a family” to be “enough to have a roof over their head and food on the table.” Under that definition, there’s no need to raise the minimum wage or any such thing.

M.Z. Forrest June 14, 2005 at 8:07 pm

RULE 3 VIOLATION.
IF YOU WANT TO QUOTE THE POPE, GREAT. DON’T JUST CUT AND PASTE BIG PASSAGES. PAIR IT DOWN TO JUST THE NUT OF THE IDEA YOU WANT TO DOCUMENT.

Abdul Razak Mohammed September 10, 2008 at 12:06 pm

I am in the USA and I want a job. thank you

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