Promoting Awareness and Appreciation of the Working Class

Myth#1: Working-Class People Should Be Paid Less Because Their Jobs Don't Require Critical Thinking or Education

Copyright 2010-2014 by Scot G. Patterson. All rights reserved.

Let’s take a look at some of the myths about people who work with their hands. It's important to understand how people perceive us if we are to improve our status and achieve some sort of parity in wage compensation.

I find it irritating that people complain about paying the plumber $80/hr. to fix a leaking toilet, but have no problem paying their attorney $200/hr. for legal advice. I remember hearing Johnny Carson make a comment during his monologue about how expensive his plumber was – I am surprised that he even noticed such a small expenditure considering the millions of dollars he earned each year telling jokes and entertaining us. Needless to say, the injustice felt by Mr. Carson did not compel him to crawl under the house to fix the plumbing himself. At the same time, there was no mention of the millions of dollars Mr. Carson paid to his publicist or manager for their services.

The issue here is parity in compensation for services rendered. Why are some people paid more than others? While there are many factors influencing how much we are paid for a day’s work, education is a key variable in most sociological studies of social class and income. These researchers tend to view formal education as the Holy Grail and hands-on experience as a less important asset. An attorney goes to law school for three years, yet it takes four years for an apprentice plumber to be certified in his craft. Why then is the lawyer paid more than the plumber? Obviously the length of time spent in training is not the determining factor.

Our knowledge-based society tends to place a premium on technical and academic training. The underlying assumption is that people employed in professional careers possess a unique capacity for critical thinking that is not shared by the working class. An alternate viewpoint is clearly expressed by one of my heroes, Matthew B. Crawford, author of the book Shop Class as Soul Craft. Mr. Crawford has found a receptive audience because he is a trained academic and intellectual who “dropped out” to open his own motorcycle repair shop. Here are some relevant highlights from a recent speech (“Prose and Politics” August 4th, 2009).

“But some people, including I think some who are very smart, would rather be learning to build things and fix things, and why not honor that? I want to make a case for the trades largely by pointing out how cognitively rich that kind of work can be. … [and] point out that the kind of thinking that goes on in the trades can be genuinely impressive, if we stop to notice it. And, conversely, I think that we sometimes romanticize some kinds of white collar work by presuming that it has more intellectual content than it actually does.”

If we look closely at the assumptions associated with the devaluation of the working trades, the myths begin to fall apart. I'm not saying the highly-trained professionals should not be paid well, I am simply pointing out that the disparity in income between working-class and professional trades has become exaggerated beyond reason. Yes, we need accountants – it would take a life-threatening event to make me read and interpret the tax code, but how much more is that skill worth than finish carpentry? Let’s not forget to include in our discussion the outrageous compensation for hedge fund managers and CEOs of companies that are not making a profit.

People in the working trades deserve respect for the work they do. Many of us also deserve better pay. This website is dedicated to advancing these goals and promoting the status of the working class.