Term ‘dead-end’ insult to honest work

By Walter Williams: Syndicated Columnist

Certain jobs are derisively referred to as “burger flipper” or “dead-end” jobs. I’d like someone to define a dead-end job.

For example, I started out as a professor of economics at California State University, Los Angeles, and then at Temple University and for the past 25 years at George Mason University. It seems as though my employment might qualify as a dead-end job, for all I’ll ever be is a professor of economics.

Those who demean so-called dead-end jobs probably aren’t talking about my job. They’re mockingly referring to jobs such as clerks at Wal-Mart, hotel workers, and food handlers and counter clerks at McDonald’s.

McJobs is the term applied to these positions. The term has even found its way into Merriam-Webster and the encyclopedia Wikipedia. Putting down so-called dead-end jobs is a destructive insult to honest work.

How dead-end is a McDonald’s job? Jim Glassman, an American Enterprise Institute scholar, wrote an article in the Institute’s June 2005 On The Issues bulletin titled “Even Workers with ‘McJobs’ Deserve Respect.”

He listed some well-known former McDonald’s workers. Among them: Andy Card, White House chief of staff; Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com; Jay Leno, “Tonight Show” host; Carl Lewis, Olympic gold medalist; Joe Kernan, former Indiana governor; and Robert Cornog, retired CEO of Snap-On Tools.

According to Glassman, some 1,200 McDonald’s restaurant owners began as crew members, and so did 20 of McDonald’s 50 top worldwide managers. These people and millions of others hardly qualify as dead-enders.

The primary beneficiaries of so-called McJobs are people who enter the workforce with modest or absent work skills in areas such as: being able to show up for work on time, operating a machine, counting change, greeting customers with decorum and courtesy, cooperating with fellow workers and accepting orders from supervisors.

Very often the people who need these job skills, which some of us might trivialize, are youngsters who grew up in dysfunctional homes and attended rotten schools. It’s a bottom rung on the economic ladder that provides them an opportunity to move up. For many, the financial component of a low-pay, low-skill job is not nearly as important as what they learn on the job that can make them more valuable workers in the future.

Some demagogues charge that jobs at Wal-Mart and McDonald’s only pay the minimum wage. That’s plain wrong, as are many other things said about jobs that start at the minimum wage. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Sixty-three percent of minimum-wage workers receive raises within one year of employment, and only 15 percent still earn the minimum wage after three years.

Moreover, only 3 percent of all hourly workers and 2 percent of wage and salary earners earn minimum wages. Most minimum wage earners are young — 53 percent are between the ages of 16 and 24.

Furthermore, only 5.3 percent of minimum wage earners are from households below the official poverty line; 40 percent of minimum-wage earners live in households with incomes of $60,000 and higher, and over 82 percent of minimum-wage earners do not have dependents.

My stepfather used to tell me that any honest work was better than begging and stealing. As a young person, I worked many jobs from shining shoes and picking blueberries to delivering packages and washing dishes.

Today’s tragedy for many a poor youngster is that the opportunities I had for learning the world of work and moving up the economic ladder have either been destroyed through legislation or demeaned by today’s do-gooders.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He writes for Creators Syndicate and may be contacted at: wwilliam@gmu.edu