Just a Job

So Michael Petrilli leads with a somewhat feckless proposal to limit college access but then his follow-up appears, in which he’s shocked—yea, shocked!—to discover that vocational education has significant cognitive demands!

Petrilli still pretends that these deficiencies are an “outrage” caused by poor schools that charters and choice and firing teachers will fix. But here’s the crux of his second piece:

So let’s assume, then, that for the foreseeable future many of our high schools are going to have a heck of a lot of entering students who are prepared for neither a true college-prep curricular route nor a high-quality CTE program. The high school will do its best, but in all likelihood, a great many of these young people will graduate (if they graduate) with low-level skills that won’t leave them prepared for college or a well-paying career. What should we do with these students while they are in high school? What education offerings would benefit them the most?

We’ve got all these kids that won’t be ready for a well-paying career, so what do we do with them while they are in high school? Seriously?

He skips right by the important question: what do these kids do for a job?

Petrilli’s entire reason for existing, professionally speaking, is to offer education as a silver bullet. He’s not someone who will cheerfully accept Paul Bruno’s data showing that education doesn’t fight poverty.

But even Petrilli has to acknowledge that our country has all sorts of jobs that don’t require any training.

What jobs require minimum skills? All the jobs reformers and progressives both describe in disparaging terms: Walmart clerk, hotel maid, custodian, garbage collector, handyman, fast food worker. The average elite makes these jobs sound unfit, an insult to even consider.

I had a kid who I will call Sam in my Math Support Class for Kids Who Didn’t Pass the Graduation Test. He wasn’t particularly memorable, charming or appealing, a slacker constantly trying to get out of any effort. If I didn’t take away his cell phone, he’d never work and even without his cell phone he’d be more likely to draw than practice the basic skills I tried to help him improve on. His skills are incredibly weak; like many low IQ kids he’s got good solid math facts but no ability to synthesize or generalize.

A couple months ago, long after he’d finished my class, Sam came bounding into my room beaming. BEAMING. He’d gotten a job at Subway. He was going to make a presentation in English class on how to make a sandwich, and he was wondering if I could help him edit his essay on the same topic. His essay was weak, but it demonstrated significant effort on his part, and he took my edit suggestions to heart and returned with a still-weak-but-much-improved version. I’ve seen him several times since, getting an update on his increasing hours, a raise, getting his GED because he can’t pass the graduation test. He’s got a purpose and he’s excited. He could give a damn if elites think his job’s a dead end.

Sam’s Indian. A recent immigrant. Weak English skills, which his parents (who are not college graduates) share. Given that many if not all the Subways in my area are franchised by south Asians, I am reasonably sure he got the job through family connections.

You know any women who get manicures? Ask them the last time they paid a non-Vietnamese woman for the service. Then wonder whether these salons would hire anyone who doesn’t speak the boss’s language.

Read this 1994 qualitative study, in which managers of large low or unskilled work forces describe why they hire more Hispanics, the power of networks, and the ability to get good workers for less because hiring by referral was cheaper, even if, or especially if, the workers were all Hispanic. Notice how the employers talk about black and white low-skilled workers, natives, who resented the treatment. Notice the discussion of different hostilities between blacks and Hispanics, but also the fact that Dominicans, Guatemalans, and Mexicans didn’t like working together. Then read the same author, Roger Waldinger, finding that second generation Hispanic immigrants are not, as was the case with other immigrants, moving up. So we imported millions of illegal Central Americans, they had kids that are now permanently low skilled workers—and still, as any employer can tell you, subject to the same inter-group hostilities, but now just as entitled as the blacks and whites are. This is a group we need more of?

Of course, all of these employers and managers in that research are white. As the Vietnamese cartel in manicure businesses suggest, Asians have taken to starting their own businesses where they mostly hire their own. Thought I was making it up about Subway and Indians? 1500 Patels in the Subway franchise database—I imagine there are all sorts of Singhs and Guptas, too. In hotels and motels, Indians own 50% of recent hotels and 60% of budget motels. With Cambodians, it’s doughnuts; the Cambodian community loans money to incoming refugees to start a franchise; the independent Cambodian shop owners have largely chased out Krispy Kreme, Dunkin Donuts, and Winchells out of LA. Cambodians have no history of donuts and from all accounts just use powdered donut mix but thanks to the network effects of cheap money and a steady supply of other low-skilled Cambodian workers, often family members, and undiscriminating illegal Mexican customers looking for a cheap breakfast, they do pretty well. In much of the eastern US, >Dunkin Donuts franchises are dominated by Indians and Portuguese. Meanwhile, 90% of the liquor stores in Baltimore are owned by Koreans where, as in LA, they sell to primarily black communities but never hire blacks to work in their stores. But in the main, Koreans left independently owned businesses and turned to franchises as well. Koreans pretty much own the frozen yogurt market: Yogurtland, Pinkberry and Red Mango have done much to challenge TCBY. I’ve never seen a Yogurtland that didn’t employ Koreans only, but I can’t find any demographics on their employee population.

Franchises and small business are not only dominated by immigrant populations who haven’t, er, gotten the memo on diversity and tolerance, but they are used as a way for non-Americans to get over here in the first place. Franchise Times: “The franchise community has been developing unique tools to secure additional capital. One exciting approach is the use of the EB-5 program (better known as “buying a Green Card”).”

Regardless of ownership, franchises and small businesses that use a lot of unskilled labor are usually hiring illegal immigrants—in fact, “undocumented” Hispanics seem to be the one non-Asian group that Asian small business owners don’t object to as employees, although Chinese illegals have been coming through the southern border in big numbers, so maybe that will change. In at least one quite horrible case, Pakistani 7-Eleven owners brought over illegal Pakistanis and locked them up to work in their stores 18 hours a day for well under minimum wage and committed all sorts of identity theft and money laundering to make millions.

We do not need immigrants to come over to America and exploit illegal aliens. This, manifestly, is a job that Americans are willing to take on.

So Mr. Petrilli wants to know how to best educate low-skilled high school students, but before I get to that, it’s clear that Mr. Petrilli needs some education.

The single most important thing we can do for low-skilled high school students is improve their job market opportunities and the quality of their work experience.

First step: stop importing competition. It’s not enough simply to crack down on Chinese and Hispanic illegal immigration; we should also realize that many immigrants are coming to America with family money and community networks to start businesses that aren’t positively affecting the low-skilled job market. Many of these immigrants are coming over via chain migration.

It is not immediately apparent to me that we gain when McDonalds and other franchise food chains reduce their company-owned stores in favor of franchises. Less risk for the companies, less transparency for the hiring processes, and improved deniability. Since it’s probably impractical to stop franchises, we should at least hold Subway, 7-Eleven, McDonalds, and the rest responsible for hiring violations—not just illegal employees, but also skewed employee demographics, which starts with increased reporting.

Small businesses owned by recent immigrants that only hire family members and take advantage of immigrant networks may have some positive impact on the economy. But not only are we importing competition for our low and unskilled workers, but our schools are required to educate their children, who are often very low-skilled, creating more classroom impact and oh, yeah, the reformers will then scream again about our lousy schools.

So the key to helping unskilled American workers is to improve their job opportunities by reducing or stopping immigration, insisting that immigrant employers follow the same hiring rules as everyone else, and demand transparency from large employers who are doing their best to avoid it by outsourcing to smaller companies to do their dirty work. If we tighten their labor market, many of the (abuses may stop as they don’t have a ready supply of willing victims. Hopefully, pay will increase.

But there’s plenty we could do in education, too, where reduced immigration will also allow us to focus more meaningfully on low-skilled citizens. High school vocational education could be expanded to include low-skilled jobs. Bill Gates and other well-meaning billionaires could open some franchises in districts with many unskilled students. Create training programs for kids to learn the importance of showing up on time, understanding customer service, identify assistant manager potential. Start a training program at Home Depot and Lowes, teach boys how to use all the equipment. Then tell the locals that they can call their local schools directly for miscellaneous labor needs and get a guaranteed source, rather than picking up whoever’s sitting out in front of Home Depot.

I know nothing about how state and local employers hire meter maids, garbage workers, and the like. I bet most reformers don’t either. How about finding out? How about internship programs, again funded by all those well-meaning billionaires, that give kids summer experience writing parking tickets, picking up recyclables, collecting bridge tolls—are any of these jobs outsourced? Suppose we have a discussion about that.

As for education, we can teach kids how to read, write, calculate, and engage their brain on the issues of the day without moving beyond an 8th grade vocabulary. We can even extend that 8th grade vocabulary a bit. Teach them how to read newspaper articles, how to write their opinions in an organized fashion, how to write a letter to the editor—how to craft a job application letter specific to the situation. Certainly we could teach them the basics of business entrepreneurism for those who would like to try self-employment or small business. How about living opportunities? Many kids in this situation can’t afford an apartment and so live with their parents, feeling infantilized. Perhaps they need to be educated on their opportunities: sharing rentals, more affordable regions, and so on.

We don’t even really know yet how to educate people with IQs less than 100, which is probably the most important educational research we aren’t doing. Maybe we can move some of the kids from unskilled to skilled technician jobs, with the right approach.

I’m glad Michael Petrilli has acknowledged reality. But in doing so, he’s opened a big can of worms for the reform movement. Once we realize that the bulk of the kids reformers have been focusing on, the lowest achievers, can’t be educated in the manner they demand, then it becomes clear that employment, not education, is the key area for reform.

Let me finish by referring back to the Sam anecdote. We should not be importing families who will add to the unskilled labor pool, but have an advantage because of immigrant social networks and capital.

But I can’t begin to tell you how completely transformed Sam was when he got his job. He had a purpose. He felt useful. I remember vaguely in Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed a time when she made a contemptuous remark about their work and hurt a co-worker’s feelings. The co-worker didn’t think the task was a waste of time; she was proud of getting it done correctly.

Progressives and reformers hold these jobs in low esteem because they simply can’t conceive that for low skilled people, these jobs can be meaningful and satisfying. But other times, they’re just jobs, just something that people do to make money and live. “Just a job” isn’t an insult. It’s an objective. It’s a goal. It’s time to start focusing on meaningful employment opportunities for the entire population, instead of giving immigrants the jobs our unskilled workforce needs.

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About educationrealist


74 responses to “Just a Job

  • edtitan77

    This is a well timed post considering the bruhaha over Bundy’s comments about slavery & “Negroes”. What is to be done? Just buy them off with welfare? How long can that go on as productive people become a shrinking portion of the pie?

  • momof4

    I agree with you; jobs should be the goal and “immigration policy” should reflect that. Government policies have also limited housing options for young and/or un/low-skilled people. Boarding houses used to exist and so did older couples/women renting rooms in their houses. Bureaucrats and politicians thought the former were somehow “inadequate” and they were legislated/regulated out of existence. when I was a kid, boarding houses meant renting a room, with access to shared bathrooms and the option of having a small refrigerator and small appliances; essentially an old-fashioned college dorm format, with communal living rooms and breakfast and dinner provided. The former option was eliminated through “equal-access” regs; owners couldn’t choose to rent only to someone with whom they felt comfortable sharing their home. I remember lots of those arrangements and they worked well; the elderly had some income, someone in the home in case of emergency and purposeful activity. My brother’s landladies treated him like a grandson and loved making his favorite breakfasts and dinners.

  • Hubbard

    Nice post. From what I’ve seen, you’re not particularly a fan of Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother tactics, but you’re covering a great deal of the ground she covered in her first book, World on Fire.

    If you’re not interested in reading the book right now–who has time these days to read whole books?–then you can cheat by reading Steve Sailer’s review or John Derbyshire’s.

  • Jim

    Ed – I’m curious, I would have thought that an IQ of much less than 110 would be too low for a college degree. As I recall from reading Linda Gottredson some time ago, 110 was the lowest IQ in her sample of teachers.

    • Latias

      What are the samples of teachers she was referring to? Ed, actually said that high school teachers are cognitively above average when using various metrics including standardized test scores, and that elementary school teachers (and education majors in general) are the among the ones with the lowest aptitude.

    • Mark Roulo

      I can point you towards a state college where the incoming ACT scores (25%/75%) are 14/19 and the 6-year graduation rate is 28%. Assume that the folks scoring ~19 on the ACT are the ones graduating … this is probably close to an IQ of 100 (average ACT is 21, but not everyone takes the ACT, and the slower kids probably select out more than the others).

      [The 25%/75% for incoming SAT M+V is 790/910 …]

  • Jim

    I agree completely. Unfortunately increasing automation may make these problems even worse. Very simple jobs like operating elevators or pumping gas were eliminated long ago. But in the not too distant future the typical MacDonald’s may have one or two actual people with the rest of the work done by robots.

    • DensityDuck

      To be honest, it’s less automation and more society that eliminated the jobs you describe. It’s not that the elevator or the gas pump got any simpler to operate; it’s just that people stopped thinking that “push the button for the floor” was something someone had to do *for* you.

      Or, in general, stopped thinking that lower-income people should dance for their amusement. There’s some ugly attitudes underpinning someone’s expressed preference for the “human” factor in retail or service-sector transactions.

      And, as people point out, maybe it’s better in terms of human dignity that we not have elevator operators or gas pumpers, but what about the guy for whom elevator operation was the best he could achieve?

      • Roger Sweeny

        Yes, the elevator and gas pumps did get simpler to operate. Early on, elevators did not have sensors and “brains” which sensed when the elevator was at the proper floor and then slowly decelerated it. All that was done by the operator. Similarly, early gas pumps did not have an automatic shut-off.

        It is true, though, that some places retained elevator operators even after the need for them was gone. And “gas jockeys” continued to be employed to wash windshields, check the oil, and run the old credit card systems.

      • educationrealist

        Oregon doesn’t allow people to pump their own gas. Prices stay low. Not sure what the history is behind that.

        I agree that many jobs will disappear because of automation, but more will arise. But I also think we can do more to educate the low-IQs, figure out ways to break down more advanced concepts if we link them to task.

        I thought your point at Joanne Jacob’s site about that student who had to pass physics despite never needing it was excellent. Are they using these classes as sorting mechanisms or because the skills are really needed? If the former, then we need to make sure that people like your ex-student are given the support they need to get through the gate.

      • Roger Sweeny

        As far as I can determine, the people who approve these programs honestly believe that these courses are necessary to go a good job, now or in the future. Not that they have actually done any rigorous research about it. The education business doesn’t work that way.

        My former student told me that the professor had said, since they would be using pressure gauges, they had to know what pressure was. But an intuitive understanding of pressure and some standard operating procedures is sufficient for anything he will be doing. He doesn’t need to know a physicist’s definition or to be able to solve physics word problems about pressure.

        I suppose an educator might argue, “If you learn a few standard operating procedures, you won’t know what to do in situations that the SOPs don’t cover. If you understand what is going on, you can figure out what to do.” I see two problems with that. One, it underestimates how much good technicians can figure out without a lot of academic knowledge. Two, most every person who takes the course forgets most of it soon after the final exam. The knowledge isn’t there to apply to unusual situations anyway.

      • Jim

        I live near Houston and some years ago I visited the San Jacinto Battlefield Memorial. They have a very tall tower that you can ride a elevator to the the top where there is a lookout. The elevator has a human operator. The door doesn’t open automatically and someone not familiar with the controls might be a little confused at first as how to operate it. Also it seems like the controls vary the speed so you have to know how to decelerate approaching your destination, etc. Still it seems like at most a few hours of practice and instruction would be sufficent to master this job. I was thinking that it be most be very lonely for the guy operating the elevator when he attends the National Convention of Elevator Operators.

      • Roger Sweeny

        There were always two problems with those controls. It was hard to stop and start without jerking and it was hard to stop exactly at floor level. An unskilled operator would overshoot or undershoot, and then jerk up and down trying to land at the correct spot.

      • Jim

        Yes, I remember from my childhood that sometimes the door of the human operated elevator would open with the floor of the elevator not quite level with floor of the building requiring the operator to do some adjusting.

  • Latias

    I really hope Dasmine Cathey is a Catholic, because wearing a Rosary is weird if you are not a Catholic.

  • countenance

    Dispatches from the future

    “Sam” won’t be able to work at Subway, because sub sandwich assembly has been automated. His failure to become a nuclear physicist is blamed on “bad white racist teachers.” The bad schools run by these bad white racist teachers who refused to allow Sam to become a nuclear physicist is used as the reason why we need unlimited H1B visas.

  • Hattie

    “We’ve got all these kids that won’t be ready for a well-paying career…”

    You take the careers for which they *will* be ready, and you make them well-paying, basically. I’m so sick of the assumption that these jobs are low paying as a hard and fast rule. They wouldn’t be so low paid if the soi disant elites didn’t enact policies that screw over the least intelligent.

    • Jim

      Around Houston where I live almost 100% of the workers at construction sites are Mestizos no doubt many of the illegal. When you see shingles being tacked onto a roof it is always a bunch of little brown guys. If this very cheap labor weren’t available in almost limitless supply shingles would still get tacked onto roofs but the work would be done by native Americans incuding blacks who would receive a lot more in wages than is paid now.

      New houses would be slightly more expensive but reductions in costs for crime and welfare and the education of the chidren of illegal immigrants would probably more than offset any increase in new house prices.

  • Hattie

    @Jim and @countenance:

    How much automation is going to happen as long as there’s a steady supply of cheap, subsidised labour?

    • Mark Roulo

      With a high enough minimum wage and an huge supply (of partially imported) low skilled labor, we can have the best of both worlds! Lots of automation surrounded by lots of unemployed folks that have been priced out of jobs because it would be unfair to not pay them more. Also, it would be evil to favor current American low skilled folks by keeping out low skilled foreigners, so we can feel good about ourselves by putting wage pressure on the low skilled, then passing laws to ensure that they are unemploable due to cost reasons.

      Go us!

      • educationrealist

        For five terrible seconds, I thought you were serious.

      • Mark Roulo

        Well … I was serious in that this is what I expect to happen. But I will disapprove of it when it does happen, so there is that 🙂

      • educationrealist

        Yeah, I was thinking of this.

      • Mark Roulo

        I feel that someone owes me a beer. Or a cupcake. Or something.

        For my great foresight 🙂

        I’m only disapproving of it a *little* though. The way to do science is to run experiments and California is sorta running one. Sucks to be on the losing end of this sort of experiment, of course, but I’m (reluctantly) willing to sacrifice some other (poor) people’s livelihood in the search of truth!

        I’d have been happier if the 2022 target was $20/hour because I think that would have been more useful, but we can’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

        My grandma lives in an assisted living facility. I expect that a number of the folks who work in these things in the central valley make less than $15/hour. So one outcome of this will probably be that things get more expensive for elderly folks who are on fixed incomes. Not sure how that will resolve.

        A co-worker mentioned that day care for little ones probably pays less than $15/hour right now, so child care costs should go up, too.

        A win if you have one of those jobs and keep it. A loss if your childcare costs drift up by 20% or so …

        ‘Twill be interesting to watch …

      • educationrealist

        Yeah, I don’t know what happens if child care rates go up. I’ve heard they’re really high in CA.

      • Roger Sweeny

        The Federal Reserve aims for an inflation rate of 2% (yes, they want positive inflation, for reasons that may actually be sensible). Assuming the Fed hits its targets, that’s a cumulative inflation rate over 7 years of 14.87%. A wage of $15.00/hour in 2022 would be worth the same as a wage of $13.06 (15.00/1.1487) in 2015. This will blunt some of the unemployment effects of the higher minimum. We will not have a nice controlled experiment.

      • educationrealist

        That’s true. It might just be a forced cost of living increase.

      • Mark Roulo

        “A wage of $15.00/hour in 2022 would be worth the same as a wage of $13.06 (15.00/1.1487) in 2015.”

        Median household income in the US runs about $51K today. So two California minimum wage earners working full time in 2022 should earn an inflation adjusted $52K … about the median for a US family. This probably goes quite far in the central valley (Stockton, Modesto, Fresno, Bakersfield).

        But the median family has to include a bunch of single folks and families where one (or both?) adults are not working, so I’m not quite sure what to conclude from this.

  • Jackson

    I’m coming from a parental perspective. Our adopted son, with an Iq which never tested above 80, is working a factory job obtained through vocational rehabilitation. At one point he interviewed for a job at Kohls (similar to a Target job) and it became clear that job was beyond him. And yet he passed an Algebra 1 class, required for high school graduation. He also graduated high school, taking regular classes till 12th grade,when the school (finally) told us he was eligible for modified classes. They wanted their graduation statistics to look good so they reduced the numbers of students in modified classes.

    I need advice. I am worried sick about our son’s future, I practically left a theses at https://educationrealist.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/noahpinion-on-iq-or-maybe-just-no-knowledge/#comment-6319

    Any realistic help,and advice would be appreciated. He was tested from age 5 on (about every 2 years), and took just about every type of intelligence test considered reputable and from professionals with degrees and training in administering such tests as well as specialized psychologists, etc. At age 22, he just tested at 80 Iq. He has gotten results as low as 78 and 79 before. Never above 80.

    • Latias

      It seems hard for anyone to offer practical advice because this blog tends to attract high IQ individuals whose children inherit similar genes (or have an upbringing conducive to high intelligence as anti-hereditarians would explain). They simply do not have the experience

      Do you mean as “high as 78 and 79 before”? I mean that is only as “impressive” as an IQ of 121 and 122

      Could you provide more details about your sons’ travails in algebra I. Did he managed to barely passed the tests with his concerted efforts? Did homework and participation account for a large proportion of the class grade (> 15%)? How many hours did he study for the class during a week?


      On a personal meditation, there is something I like to call the “symmetry of misery”. Certainly one has a sense of high self-esteem for obtaining a high score on a standardized test or aptitude tests, but beyond any vain boasting, when we consider that the bell curve is symmetrical around its mean, we realize that for every high IQ person, there is another person who has a profoundly low IQ. The virtual image (reflection) of the 130 IQ person would be immensely cognitively challenged, unable to comprehend anything that has abstractions, but your adopted son only has an IQ of 80, not 70. High IQ individuals do not personally experience this symmetry since they do not associate with low IQ individuals in education, employment, housing, family, and their peer groups.

      • Jim

        Charles Murray has remarked that many high IQ people simply don’t have any comprehension of the magnitude of the problem of low IQ people.

        Many many years ago when I was moving from Delaware to Texas I arranged for a moving company to pack up my household possessions. A crew of 3 guys and a supervisor came to my house to pack my stuff up and load it in a truck. When they were getting to the end the supervisor came to me with a form and asked me what time had they started and ended. I was a little surprised at first because as I recall a large clock was still on the wall in front of him. Then I realized that he couldn’t read a clock. I filled out the quite simple form for him. For him filling out this form was to me like solving the equations of the General Theory of Relatively.

      • DensityDuck

        He could read a clock just fine. But he wants you to put the time on the form, so that if later you take the company to court and try to sue them for cheating you, he can honestly testify that you were as aware as you could possibly be of when they started the job and when they finished.

      • Jim

        Density Duck – Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody is going to sue over the cost of a job involving a few man-hours of unsilled labor. The court papers just to file a suit would have much greater cost than the cost of the whole moving job. This guy did not have a clue as how to read a clock.

        Living in Texas after moving from Delaware I now realize that it’s not particularly unusual for unskilled Mestizo laborers from Mexico not to know how to tell time from a clock.

      • DensityDuck

        Yes, people would (and do) sue over that.

    • Mark Roulo

      I doubt that I can offer much advice, but what is wrong with his factory job ( compared to the Kohl’s job)?

  • Jackson

    I do want to add that he didn’t just stroll into Algebra, sit there, and pass he class. He worked with a math tutor weekly ( she was never told he had low intelligence but probably figured it out). But no one did the tests fir him nor did the tutor know the question and problems ahead of time. So I am perplexed. And worried.

    • Troy

      Jackson: I don’t think I can offer much advice about job prospects, but regarding a community and social life (as you talked about on the other thread), are you a member of a church? I have no idea what your religious views are, but in my experience churches are one of the only places where people of very different IQs and classes socialize together. This is not to say that this happens in all or even most churches; but it happens in some. Even in churches which mostly have educated, intelligent, middle class members like (I assume) yourself, there will often be a few children (including adult children) of members with special needs, etc. who will find in the church community a welcoming environment. Also, from my own experience both in churches I’ve been a part of and in working with adults with mental disabilities, many low-IQ individuals seem to find significant meaning in religious faith. Certainly an IQ around 80 is not an impediment to finding meaning in religion.

      • Latias

        I would strongly recommend your adopted son to become involved in a church young adult group. I am actually part of one, but Lion would regard most of them proles and apparently none of them are on a prestigious career track (as defined by Lion): it seems to be the least likely of places that would put much intellectual and social demand on him, as they would likely accept him for who he is if he isn’t overly being a nuisance.

        Still, he should at least know the basic tenets of the church he would be involved in, but it is unlikely he could offer any deep theological insights.

  • Roger Sweeny

    At least here in Massachusetts, the conventional wisdom is that toll takers got their jobs because they or their family were important to some politician. However, those jobs are being phased out. Right now, a lot of people pay tolls via a transponder in their car which is linked to an account with E-Z Pass, a consortium of state DoTs. A year or so from now, all the toll booths will be shuttered and everyone will have to sign up with E-Z Pass or an equivalent.

  • Jim

    Yes, here in Texas virtually all the toll roads have EZ Tag. Some of them still have booths for those drivers who do not have EZ Tag. But the new ones all seem to say “EZ Tag Only”. It’s a great convenience for motorists but another simple job is being eliminated.

  • EB

    Well, the elites are always telling the world that they’re wealthy because of their higher intelligence and better work ethic. If they’re that smart, they need to envision and execute adjustments to the labor market that will provide living wage jobs to the lower half of the intelligence bell curve. If they can’t do that, what good are they?

    • DensityDuck

      Of course, the scary part is when you ask whether it might not be possible for one percent of the population to support the other ninety-nine.

      See, many people pointed out that a good chunk of the OWS protestors were healthy white people with college degrees and iPhones and cars. And yet these people were saying “we’re poor!” And I look at them, and I look at myself who has the same stuff they do, and I don’t think I’m poor. So either A: I’m a sucker and I should be out there too, or B: “poor” doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

      Food is cheap. Good stuff, at least as good as most of us care about, is cheap. Maybe the future of America really is what Nancy Kress imagined in “Beggars Ride”.

      • Jim

        Whether or not it is possible for one percent of the population to support the other ninety-nine percent of the population, I can’t imagine that such a society will be stable or peaceful. The idle ninety-nine percent are not just going to spend their time reading Proust.

  • DensityDuck

    I did actually see a white guy working in a Yogurtland…once.

    Although, as you point out, Yogurtland is a good example of how a major source of low-intelligence employment just suddenly stopped existing. People realized that if you just turned the yogurt dispensers around and sold the product by weight, you wouldn’t *need* someone behind the counter measuring out portions. And your four-employee operation is reduced to one girl running credit cards and one on-call “manager” who comes in if there’s a problem (and no, a dispenser running out of goop is not a problem, the register girl just tapes up a napkin with “NOT IN ORDER” scrawled on it, and that’s the end of that flavor for the day.)

  • DensityDuck

    Your bit about family referrals is a good one, and maybe it explains why the local fast-food restaurants seem to be solely operated by latinoes, mostly middle-aged but with a few teenagers or abeluitas. (Except for In-N-Out, which apparently is conducting a campaign to be the only employer of white teenagers in California.)

    And damn if they aren’t the surliest people I’ve ever encountered. “Hikitayaowwa?” (Hi, can I take your order?) “Yaanchee?” (Would you like cheese on that?) “Whasai?” (What size would you like?) “Yuunadrii?” (What would you like to drink?) “Abbytheefiifiii, fuswanna pee.” (That will be three fifty-five, first window please.”) And then you get there and they damn near throw the food through your car window (my favorite, if you can call it that, are the ones that dangle the bag out the window and wave it around, like it’s a huge imposition on their day that you actually want food and would you please get a move on already.)

  • DensityDuck

    And in the end, you have it exactly right about the solution being “enforce immigration and labor laws”. The reason people hire illegal immigrants is that they know they can get away with it. It’s not like the cops are there watching contractors scoop guys up from the front of Home Depot and asking if they’re checking for green cards. It’s not like the FDA goes into the meat-packing plants and asks about Social Security numbers.

    It’s like drugs. The solution is not to attack the source; the solution is to attack the demand. With drugs, you legalize; with labor, you go after the employers, use fines and criminal charges to make illegal hiring unprofitable (instead of just a hassle, which it is now.)

    But checking for papers is racist. Asking whether people are here legally is racist. I mean, you wouldn’t go up to a road crew full of Minnesota Lutherans (assuming you could find one) and ask to see their birth certificates, right? Therefore checking for legal status is racist.

    That said, it’s not as though putting the arm on contractors and restaurant managers is going to make there be a huge flood of jobs for low-intelligence Americans. In a lot of cases it’ll just be mechanized–or self-serve. (I’m pretty sure McDonald’s is conducting some test cases to see what would happen if they went to the Yogurtland model, just let customers build their own burgers and charged by the ounce.)

  • momof4

    Phrased however you will – perhaps in terms most likely to create acceptance – avoidance of irresponsible/dysfunctional behavior is likely to lead to better outcomes than eternal government dependence (which practice is financially unsustainable). No, the supply of jobs for un/low-skilled is not unlimited, but current immigration policies further limit the opportunities for Americans. Also, I don’t think many places have a serious focus on putting means-tested aid recipients to work.

  • retired

    Great post Ed. I’ll look forward to hearing your expanded thoughts on how to educate the left half of the bell.

  • JayMan

    Unfortunately I’m only getting to this now. Great post! Quite insightful.

    I am however going to disagree on a few bits:

    Create training programs for kids to learn the importance of showing up on time, understanding customer service, identify assistant manager potential.

    I’m of the view that, education-wise, everything we can do for the low-IQ in the current job market is being done. (I mean, isn’t school itself an exercise in the importance of showing up on time?) No reforms we could hope to make will make a huge dent until the labor market for the unskilled improves. The way to do that is to cut off immigration, as you said.

    However, if history is any guide, it’ll be years or decades before things begin to improve. In the mean time, the low IQ will face pretty poor prospects. Even better, there’s nothing saying that a tight labor market will open up all sorts of opportunities for them: likely it will spur more automation, obviating the need for quite a bit of unskilled labor. Some would be better off, sure, but would it be all that different from today?

    One of the most enlightening notions to understand is that sometimes there is no solution.

    • Roger Sweeny

      “I mean, isn’t school itself an exercise in the importance of showing up on time?”

      It is if school is important to you. But imagine it isn’t. You show up late and you miss a few classes you didn’t want to go to. You miss some work but you aren’t learning anything you think is important. And it’s not like you were going to be getting good grades anyway. Maybe you get detention but that’s not really a big deal. If anything, school may be teaching you that you don’t gain anything important by showing up on time.

      Then, when you get a real job, you have to unlearn that. Or more to the point, you have to get out of the habit of, “I just don’t feel like it, so I won’t.”

      • educationrealist

        Roger beat me to it. We have to make school intellectually engaging to low-skilled people, which we are failing at terribly now, because we aren’t giving them information they value. We could change that.

        I answered the question about automation above.

        There’s never been a complete solution to the problem, but it’s absurd to say that there’s no solution. for one thing, reducing the number of low skilled people in the country reduces the costs of the rest.

  • Joseph Moroco

    Well Latias, I don’t know if Dasmine is a Papist, but Joe Luckey, his AA is no prize.

    “I was like, ‘Holy crud, I can’t believe how many kids are reading below a seventh-grade level,'”

    I am giving away my age, but back several decades, if you said “I was like” the nun would swat you.

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    John McCain should be tried for treason.

  • mindweapon

    Reblogged this on Mindweapons in Ragnarok and commented:
    Asians have taken to starting their own businesses where they mostly hire their own. Thought I was making it up about Subway and Indians? 1500 Patels in the Subway franchise database—I imagine there are all sorts of Singhs and Guptas, too. In hotels and motels, Indians own 50% of recent hotels and 60% of budget motels. With Cambodians, it’s doughnuts; the Cambodian community loans money to incoming refugees to start a franchise; the independent Cambodian shop owners have largely chased out Krispy Kreme, Dunkin Donuts, and Winchells out of LA. Cambodians have no history of donuts and from all accounts just use powdered donut mix but thanks to the network effects of cheap money and a steady supply of other low-skilled Cambodian workers, often family members, and undiscriminating illegal Mexican customers looking for a cheap breakfast, they do pretty well. In much of the eastern US, >Dunkin Donuts franchises are dominated by Indians and Portuguese. Meanwhile, 90% of the liquor stores in Baltimore are owned by Koreans where, as in LA, they sell to primarily black communities but never hire blacks to work in their stores. But in the main, Koreans left independently owned businesses and turned to franchises as well. Koreans pretty much own the frozen yogurt market: Yogurtland, Pinkberry and Red Mango have done much to challenge TCBY. I’ve never seen a Yogurtland that didn’t employ Koreans only, but I can’t find any demographics on their employee population.

  • caroljm36

    Yes, read liberal writers from the 50s and 60s, like Doris Lessing, and see how they dismissed all “menial” labor as mind-numbing, soul-killing, etc., and that the goal of the Good Society was to rid itself of all such occupations. Oh, and wipe all their miserable little tract home hovels off the face of the earth, please, and herd them into modern council flats in town.

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