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December 28, 2005


What's is really sad about our society is the recent but gradual loss of respect for the blue collar worker.This is hard to quantify but evident to those of us who have
lived in both worlds. In my case, I'm a degreed white collar professional who moonlights as a landscape contractor in an midwest urban area. I noticed right away that, when I donned my contractor garb and interacted with the public at large that I was viewed and treated differently as opposed to when I was wearing my white collar attire. And while I am sure that some grad school study has documented and quantified this sociological phenomenon, that doesn't relieve my sense of dissapointment when the same personable sales clerk who normally smiles and makes eye contact with me fails to "recognize me" in my muddy Carhart's. Beyond perceived shallowness and prejudice, I believe the issue of status lurks. and that's what I find most disconcerting. Having lived in Europe and the thirld world, one thing I had learned to admire about the U.S. was that we were, by and large, less hung up on the issue of social status. I have always surmised that this was a vestige of our frontier past, the Yeoman farmer, and all that. My guess is that we have lost respect for the nobility of labor because we assume that those who work with their hands do so because they don't have the adequate skills or resources to do otherwise. Of course this simply is not true.

I am a college graduate (B.S. in math) who's been driving a forklift for five years since graduation. I prefer free uniforms from work, not having to get haircuts, low responsibility, paid overtime, and not having to deal with people to my imagination of what the professional life is like. I live in a rural town where my rent is $400 a month and I can bike to work. I live on about $8/hr and save the rest. Counting profit sharing I save more than half my income.

But -- half of $30,000 is only 15% of $100,000. No way am I better off than that lawyer. There's plenty of documentation that college loans pay themselves off and more, to the tune of a million dollars over a career. The expensive suits and expensive rent the lawyer pays are actually evidence for his higher living standard, not mine. He pays five times the rent:

1x because that's what the apartment really costs
2x because his is bigger than mine
3x because he gets to be closer to movers and shakers
4x because the higher your rent, the higher your status
5x well, some of it is just wasted money, like NYC taxes or paying someone just to stand there and open the door for people.

Just because some people don't make the odds and do well off their college degree doesn't make up for the vast difference in incomes between the average blue-collar and white-collar worker.

I am surprised at your comments about the goverment. I found way too many goverment employees who were making much more than they could have been making in the private sector.

Look at the number of GS-12 and GS-13 budget analyst or program analyst who have degrees in home ecnomics or education from Southeast Oklahoma State University or Alabama St University who are making $80K plus in the goverment. There is no way most of those poeple would be makng anything close to that is they had to work for a private company.

A huge chunk of the workers in government offices are actually employees of government contractors who pay them crap. Although the government is paying the contractor a huge markup for the employee. Government contracting: just another way to screw the taxpayer.

But how many of those CSC, SAIC, Northrup-Grumman, Antheon, etc contractors had their only degrees from NOVA. More likely many of those were graduates of James madison, George Mason, and Maryland.

I believe you would have a much stronger argument by claiming that many of those in government see college degrees as a credential instead of a learning experience. I was amazed of the number of government employees who claimed to have MBA's or MPA's but seemed unable to understand simple concepts like the time value of money.

A boss/moron I worked for had an MBA but didn't know what "depreciation" was. It annoys the hell out of me when people have degrees but learned absolutely nothing in the process.

Government work is heavily credential-centric. Many job descriptions require X degree.

But also remember that there are plenty of non-college educated people working government too. There's a lot of administrative work that doesn't require formal education. We used to call these people "secretaries" but now they are administrative assistance or some other title like that.

So someone that lives in Herndon and drives a truck and dresses like a slob and has a 12th grade education is doing it better than a snazzy looking DC lawyer? Are you from Oklahoma or something?

One tidbit for Noumenon - I believe I grossed just over 100k in 2005, and I have to really bust my balls to save 25% of my gross. For most six-figure-ers, $15k in the bank per annum isn't somethign the're ready or willing to do - especially the young ones without families.

And you get to drive a forklift! How cool is that.

Don't underestimate the importance of being able to do something that's going to still need to get done after oil is 16 bucks a gallon, either.

"Compare this to a guy with a law degree who has $100,000 of loans to pay off, has to buy expensive suits to wear to work, and has to pay high rent to live close to downtown where his office is. The blue collar guy actually has the higher standard of living."

I get what you're saying...but this is far too short sighted to take seriously. What happens in five, ten years? There may be a point where the bus driver has a higher standard of living than the lawyer but it won't last forever; and the lawyer will probably have a better chance of putting his kids through school without them having to worry about student loans.

vvj -- I'd really like to make $100,000 one day to see how that works. I know saving 25% of $100,000 makes you an exceptional saver, but I'd like to take a crack at it and see what I can do with my mad saving skills.

Maybe I should use my math degree to calculate the probability that I can still make money driving a forklift when propane tanks cost $100 apiece. But you know, my economic security might be better than a $100,000 person's since I haven't developed $60,000 in fixed costs to pay if I lose my job.

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