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Jobs Americans won't do

By Jason Hayes
web posted April 3, 2006

I keep hearing that the U.S.A. "needs" illegal immigrants to do "the jobs that Americans won't do." Apparently some jobs are beneath the dignity of some people.

That concept confuses me because in my short life, I have worked as a dishwasher, a short order and line cook, a landscaper, and an aborist. I did day labor, I worked on farms and in apiaries, I did construction work, I delivered newspapers and "unaddressed mail." I have also worked in the service industry - giving people their coffee and muffins every day. When I worked as a back country ranger in BC Parks, part of my duties included digging outhouse holes and then cleaning the outhouses we put over our excavations. When I worked in the forest industry, I regularly spent days on end out in the bush, in temperatures ranging from -40 C to +45 C (-40 to 115 dF) spray painting cutblock boundaries, slogging through cold/wet/sphagnum moss muck, fighting off millions of mosquitoes, hungry bears, and the occasional angry moose.

From what I read, I am supposed to accept that each one of these jobs was something that an "American will not do;" they were, I guess, beneath my dignity. They were often dirty, usually physically demanding, and typically required long hours and a lot of time away from my home. However, while I was doing them, I somehow remained American and Canadian (dual citizen) and while working at each of those jobs, I made between $3.75 and $20 / hour. If I break down the average wage I made over those years, it would probably come out at somewhere around $6 - $10 / hour, not too much different from what the illegals are earning to do the same type of work, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.

"Despite the dangers and drudgery, however, the wage for menial labor in America is far better than anything earned in Mexico. An unskilled laborer from the Sierra Madre is lucky to make $25 a week; in California he can easily earn nearly $10 an hour and often more."

I have heard that the estimated percentage of "undocumented" workers in the U.S. system is somewhere around 5 per cent and that the U.S. economy will collapse if they were not here. I also note that the current U.S. unemployment rate is 4.8 per cent. Now I admit that this is a pretty crude comparison, but it makes for an interesting topic of discussion.

If 5 per cent of the work force, which is earning somewhere around $10/hr, suddenly disappeared. Wouldn't it make sense that the 5 per cent that is currently unemployed could fill in at least a few of those jobs, thus keeping the U.S. economy afloat?

If I were laid off of my current position, I would most certainly head back to that sort of employment - pruning trees, landscaping, etc. - until I could find something else. In fact, I have returned to that kind of work, when I was laid off of a research assistant position, just after finishing my course work for a Masters Degree, looking at $40,000 +/- in student loans, and had my second child on the way.

I understand that some will argue that they couldn't afford to live on $10/hr; in their estimation, that is not "a living wage." I have worked with many people who made the same arguments as they gamed the system and urged our employer to lay them off so they could join the "Brian Mulroney" or "Jean Chretien ski team".* For them, the prospect of finding another job, as opposed to scumming off of the rest of the working people in the country, was a non-starter. They preferred to keep themselves in seasonal jobs that paid relatively well, so they could then ensure higher unemployment payments during their off season.

I have also heard similar arguments from people who thought they were too good to work at certain jobs. One time, a friend - who was employed as a social worker - was trying to find one of her charges employment. The potential of working at a local 7-11 was raised, as that company is always looking for new people. Our friend immediately rejected that option as being beneath her client's dignity. Despite a lot of discussion on the topic, she refused to see that living one's life in thrall to the whims and dictates of some government social services department, and demanding that the rest of society support you, required far less in the way of dignity than did earning a living at a convenience store.

Those "UI ski bums" and (inappropriately) arrogant people aside, a job paying $10/hr is better - for the rest of the world - than sitting on your rear end, waiting for your next unemployment or social services check to arrive.

Those who would refuse agricultural/landscaping work or a service industry job because it is "too hard," or they might have to work in the heat, or couldn't bring themselves to serve someone, or they couldn't afford to live on $10 / hour need to give their heads a shake. You do that work until you can find something better and then you move on.

There is no such thing as a (legal) job that is beneath your dignity. The only undignified response to an offer of employment, when you need that job to pay your bills and feed that family, is to turn it down.

* For those not familiar with this term, the Prime Minister's ski team referred to those who were "laid off" so they could collect unemployment payments and spend the winter season skiing.

Jason Hayes recently relocated from Calgary, AB to Phoenix, AZ - for a job. He has also recently relocated his blog, "Musing" to www.jasonhayes.org.

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