With all due respect to TV’s Mike Rowe, I’ve had many dirty jobs in my life. And there was very little that was entertaining about the experiences.
I worked on an assembly line at a pickle factory; crawled into hot attics wearing a respirator and installed insulation; baled hay for 10-hour shifts in July and August; cut three-acre lawns with a push mower; and worked half a summer breaking up concrete with a sledge hammer.
I learned two important things from those dirty jobs. One: I never want to do any of them again. Two: Even the worst job is better than no job.
Truth is, I didn’t want to do those jobs in the first place. But when you’re a teenager, you have few skills, and you want money to spend, you take what you can get. Then you develop skills and work your way up from that dirty job…as fast as you can shovel.
Or maybe you take another route.
Why bust your ass when you can deal drugs? Why sweat in the hot sun when you can hustle people for money? No question, crime pays better than baling hay. But it has no honor.
That’s the lesson you learn with a job, any job: There is honor in an honest day’s work. If Wilmington could be blessed with any Christmas gift to address its current plight, I would ask for the blessing of hundreds of low-skill jobs to provide that experience to many who simply aren’t that hire-able at this point in their lives. Give them the chance to work their way up. An entry-level job bank, if you will.
Quite honestly, I can’t imagine what I’d do without a job for an extended period of time. I was unemployed for just a summer and it was perhaps the worst stretch in my life. Three more months…who knows?
Since I was a 12-year-old with a paper route (another dirty job), work has given me focus, self-discipline, a place to go, a place to belong, a sense of accomplishment, a reason to enjoy the “after-work” beer. To say it has been my deliverance is not an overstatement.
So while we work on better policing, improved access to education, renewed family values, let’s throw a life preserver to those paddling frantically in a sea of despair. Let’s throw them a job…as fast as we can.
Oh, I know: “Easier said than done.” There are mental health issues, transportation issues, addiction issues…but do we really have a choice? Two years ago, I attended a special viewing of Yassar Payne’s The People’s Report, a provocative documentary on structural violence and crime in Wilmington. After the film, members of Payne’s research team (guys from the streets of Wilmington who appeared in the film) were asked: “What’s the one thing right now we could do to help address this problem?”
“Provide jobs,” they collectively answered.
A load of bull? Perhaps. But then I thought about my own experiences.
More entry-level jobs won’t save everyone. Most of us know the frustration of trying to help someone hell-bent on going the other way. But those jobs will save those willing to be saved. And that makes it a job worth doing.