On Mike Rowe, Dirty Jobs and the Benefits of a College Education

I've been hearing more about Mike Rowe lately. He used to be the host of a show called Dirty Jobs. I came across his name on Facebook; one of my friends had posted some sort of link, which I checked out. And I got mad.

Seems that Rowe is selling a poster that says, "Work smart AND hard." Back in the day, there was a poster on the wall of his high school guidance counselor's office that said, "Work smart, not hard." It showed a guy smiling in a cap and gown with his diploma standing in front of a desk. The guy beside him (the poster was split in half) showed a guy in a work uniform, dirty, and not looking very happy. That poster infuriated Rowe, who actually did go on to get a college degree. His platform is that college is not for everyone, and that no one should go in debt to get an education, particularly if you are heading towards the humanities, or (God forbid) getting a degree in women's studies.

Every fucking thing in this country boils down to money, and why should education be any different? Instead of studying something that is of interest to you, you are encouraged to major in the degree that will earn you the most money. Problem is, not all of those people are going to get jobs in their field of study. Rowe wants to encourage people to go into the skilled trades. He does have a point. We DO need electricians, carpenters, HVAC people, plumbers, roofers and exterminators. We need people to trim trees, move dirt out of the way, and pave roads. We need people to keep horse stalls clean and dig out roots from sewer lines. He feels that not enough people are encouraged to do this, even though we need people to do this. Here's part of the reason why: people don't want to do it. If a kid has a father who busts his ass six days a week, twelve hours a day at a dirty, dangerous job, chances are his father will encourage him NOT to follow in the same line of work. Yes, some of those workers get paid good money, but unions are not as strong as they used to be. So I'm guessing pay for some of these jobs isn't what it used to be, either.

Rowe has done all right, hosting a television show, but here's some hard truths. Blue collar jobs are dangerous. Assuming you become a roofer at the age of twenty and you work for twenty years, you're now forty years old. Let's hope you are in reasonably good shape, meaning your gut doesn't hang out over your pants and you don't go to work drunk. If you last another ten years, you'll be fifty. Is THIS the kind of work you want to be doing as you approach your golden years? And what if you have an accident? Assuming that you are not paralyzed, do you really want to be up on a roof again? Here's some stats on blue collar work deaths vs. white collar work deaths. http://www.trinity.edu/mkearl/deathocc.html The most dangerous blue collar job, logging, had 129 deaths per 100,000. Contrast that with airline pilot, which was ranked the number one most dangerous white collar job. Ninety-seven deaths per 100,000. From there, the death rates go down significantly for white collar workers, but it's extremely high for the blue collar jobs, even if they are ranked the same in terms of "danger." The reason why people aren't clamoring for these jobs is not only are they dirty, they are fucking dangerous. And I'd like to ask Rowe just how many women loggers are out there, and if certain women aren't cut out for college, what should they do.

For decades, I thought my English degree was useless. I applied to be a substitute teacher, but none of the local school systems would have me. For a long time, I took crap job after crap job.

Then, I got a note taker job at a local college. I really enjoyed it. I took notes for a woman taking an English class, and soon, students were asking me for help. I probably overstepped my boundaries a bit, but I did think I could do as good a job, if not better, than the instructor. A chance conversation in a bathroom led me to talk to someone about teaching. That was in 2006, and I've been teaching for six straight years. (I took off time in 2007 to pursue a truck driving career, which lasted all of six weeks. Incidentally, truck driving ranks number seven among dangerous blue collar jobs, with 39.6 deaths per 100,000. Physicists and astronomers, which rank number seven in dangerous white collar jobs, have a whopping 7.6 deaths per 100,000.) I returned to teaching in 2008. With the economy in the toilet, everyone was going back to school, and all of those people, if they hadn't tested out, needed to take an English class. Suddenly, my "useless" degree got me a part time job that paid higher per hour than anything I'd ever had before in my life. My brief stint as a portrait photographer (my own business) got me about $60-$75 an hour, but it wasn't steady work, and it ground to a halt. Teaching, in contrast has been pretty steady. Enrollment goes down in the spring, because students realize they have to WORK, but fall semester 2013, I had three classes and between that and my retail job, for the first time in a long time, I made enough to survive and to save a little.

In a perfect, fair world, everyone would be paid a living wage for doing what they liked to do. I'd like to think that the majority of American workers (as well as workers around the world) are in the field they want to be in, that they've found their "niche" and/or have found a way to peddle their aptitude for whatever it is they are good at. I know better.

I know Rowe has a point, but here's the thing. If you're laid off from your logging job because you've reached a "certain age" and the company's insurance provider won't insure you anymore, what's a guy to do? I would hope that all those blue collar workers are taking their good paychecks and saving/investing that money for the future, instead of blowing it on brand-new pick up trucks, guns, fishing equipment and gigantic flat screen televisions. Maybe you work union, maybe you don't, but what will you do when that money comes to a halt because you've seriously injured yourself on the job?

I know two female electricians. One of them seems to work pretty steadily, because she's willing to go where the work is. So if you DO take a blue collar job, say goodbye to your home and your spouse and kids. You may spend several weeks hundreds of miles away from home, because the work isn't there. The other woman, who is the sister of the working electrician, seems to work maybe four to six weeks a year. I'm not kidding. She spends most of the year on unemployment. And I seriously doubt she's going to find a full time job as an electrician. The main reason for that is her health is steadily going downhill. She's morbidly obese, and her calves are as red as beets. I'm worried for her health, but claims that she only needs a "couple of months" to get into shape, but she just doesn't have the time. I work four part time jobs, and I exercise probably three to five hours a week, if not more. What the hell is she doing all day, every day, that she can't exercise? She was laid off from her last gig, and I think it was because she just can't stand for nine to ten hours a day anymore. While she's off work, she doesn't bother to exercise to keep her stamina up. She can barely move now, and the only way she could work is if she could sit while they bring the work to her. Which isn't going to happen. She's fifty-six, which isn't ancient, but it's pretty plain to see (even though she refuses to) that her working life is pretty much over. A relative suggested she apply for disability, but she refuses to, because if she does that, she'll be admitting that she's giving up. If you work only a few weeks out of the year and you're getting unemployment for ten or eleven months out of the year, and your health is shot, and you don't want to do anything about it, you might as well apply for disability. I've tried to help her. I told her that I'd lost a good amount of weight in a short time through juicing, and invited her to come down and watch Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead with me. I told her about the guy who did the movie, Joe Cross, and how he lost about eighty pounds in two months. She asked if losing that amount of weight in such a short amount of time wasn't dangerous. I wanted to say, it probably wasn't as dangerous as being 300 pounds for the last ten years, but I didn't.

So, if she's so out of shape that she can't work her regular job, what else is there for her? At least if she had an education, she might be able to do administrative work, or maybe do some accounting or bookkeeping.

Yes, college isn't for everyone, but I don't want the United States to become a nation of ditch diggers. There's a whole big world out there, with fascinating stuff and people, and college is there to open up your mind. Yes, you could go to the library and read a lot of stuff for free (which I encourage) but a college degree shows determination, that you can be trained, that you can retain information, put up with bureaucracy, and stay motivated to finish something. It shouldn't cost $100,000. I agree with that. But I do plan to get my graduate degree so I can teach a bigger variety of college courses. Even if they eliminate the only class I'm able to teach, if I get my master's, I'll be able to teach at several local colleges. Even if I am an adjunct for the rest of my working life because there aren't any full time positions, getting a master's means I'll be able to teach for as long as my mind holds together. If I have to teach until I'm 75, as long as I'm fairly healthy, I'll be able to do that. Contrast that with my electrician neighbor, who I'm betting will be on disability before the age of sixty. And to be honest, my most interesting conversations have been with people who have some sort of education beyond high school.

That doesn't mean I won't hire a tree trimmer, or someone to fix my roof. Yes, those people ARE needed. But I'd rather see people in those jobs who really WANT to be there. Because I don't. And I'd like to see a good wage paid to people who DO perform dirty work. Union, non-union, I really don't care. If you are risking your life, you SHOULD be getting a good wage.


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