Russell Borders writes…
Mike Rowe, you claim to champion blue collar concerns from a bafflingly “right wing” perspective. This is irreconcilable on its face. True blue collar construction jobs are absolutely infested by illegal labor. Please address this issue because a goodly portion of your fan base knows the truth.
Thank you for such an intriguing combination of sentences. I’ve re-read them several times, and I still can’t figure out if you’re a liberal who’s baffled by my “right-wing” perspective, or a conservative who’s baffled by my stance on illegal immigration. Either way, I’m sorry for your bafflement, and happy to answer your question. But first, a few questions of my own.
How do you feel about Republicans who support gay marriage, and Democrats who oppose abortion?
What about women who voted for Trump, and black people who reject affirmative action?
Are you baffled by them, in the same way you’re baffled by me? I mean, how do you determine that which is “irreconcilable on it’s face,” from that which simply doesn’t fit into one of your predetermined boxes?
To be clear – I’m a fan of blue-collar workers; I hope that’s obvious. Dirty Jobs was a love-letter to hard work, and mikeroweWORKS is a non-profit, apolitical foundation focused on reinvigorating skilled labor. Both endeavors evolved from a genuine appreciation of tradespeople, and my honest attempts to encourage that appreciation in others. However, I have never claimed to “champion blue-collar concerns.” Nor would I. That’s the job of unions and lobbyists and other advocates paid to speak on their behalf. The only thing I champion, are blue-collar opportunities. And the reasons why are simple.
As I type this, 6.2 million jobs are currently vacant, the majority of which require training – not an expensive, four-year degree. And yet, we’re still telling our kids that college is the best path for the most people. The result? $1.4 trillion dollars of outstanding student loans, a 50% college dropout rate, a legion of debt-ridden graduates who can’t find work in their chosen field, and millions of empty positions in dozens of technical industries, including the construction trades. In other words, the skills gap is not a “blue-collar concern,” or a “white collar concern;” it’s an American concern.
This is why I’ve spent the last ten years challenging many of the myths and misperceptions that discourage people from exploring a career in the trades. This is why my foundation has awarded millions of dollars in work-ethic scholarships. And this is why I push back when people say that my beliefs are “irreconcilable” with my “whiteness,” my “maleness,” my “tax-bracket,” my presumed political perspective, or some other aspect of my identity that has nothing at all to do with my efforts to help solve a serious problem.
Just yesterday, someone said I was a hypocrite for questioning the cost of higher education. Why? Because I’m a college graduate, and therefor “unqualified to judge.” (Never mind the fact that my degree in 1984 cost $12,000, and the same degree today from the same school costs $80K.) Last week, someone else called me a “phony” because I used to sing in the opera. Because they couldn’t reconcile “Dirty-Jobs-Mike” with “Opera-Singing-Mike,” they concluded I was a fake, and therefore not worth listening to.
It’s easy to laugh at such broken logic when it’s applied to the credibility of a B-list celebrity, but apply it elsewhere, and it’s not so funny. “Yes, The Declaration of Independence is a fine document, full of transformational ideas. But wait…it was written by a white guy? A rich, white guy? A rich white guy who owned slaves? Tear it up!”
I’m afraid we’re losing our ability to separate ideas from identities. We seem unable to reconcile the most basic of things. As my grandmother would say, we’re “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” (Or the statue of the baby, for that matter.) In other words, Russell, even if I was a “champion of blue collar concerns” with a “right-wing perspective,” so what? Do you really think it’s impossible for a man with a conservative worldview to care about blue-collar concerns? If so, then I’m going to suggest your Reconciliation Meter, is badly broken.
Now – on to your question. You’re right – I haven’t said much about the impact of illegal labor on the construction industry. Not because I support illegal immigration; I don’t. As a rule, I’m opposed to most things when they’re preceded by the word “illegal.” But if you’re right – if “true, blue collar construction jobs” are “absolutely infested by illegal labor,” how bad do you suppose the labor shortage will become when all the illegal workers are deported?
Right now, American construction workers are retiring three times faster than they’re being replaced. In many parts of country, faster than that. Hundreds of thousands of positions are vacant in the construction industry, and many more vacancies are looming in the wake of recent natural disasters. So, when you say that the industry is “infested with illegal labor,” you might be right. But it’s also infested with something else – opportunity. Honestly, which do you find more concerning?
Bottom line – no one knows where the next generation of skilled workers will come from. And that begs an inconvenient question: If unemployed American workers are standing by to pick up the slack when this “infestation” is corrected, why aren’t these same unemployed American workers flocking to fill those open positions right now?
Some will say it’s because the pay is lousy, but that’s a myth, easily debunked. Skilled jobs pay a good wage, and often lead to six-figure salaries and the formation of countless small businesses. My own foundation has helped hundreds of aspiring welders, plumbers, carpenters, and HVAC technicians get the necessary training, and I can assure you, those men and women have more work than they can possibly complete. Point is, these jobs are not vacant because of illegal labor, low pay, long hours, or lousy benefits. They’re vacant because they look like work – hard work. And I’m afraid a lot of Americans have come to the conclusion that hard work is best done by somebody else.
This is my opinion. You can call it “right-wing,” or “left wing,” or any other label that suits you. Just remember this: every day, the skills gap is getting wider, the college debt is growing, and the construction industry is becoming more reliant on illegal labor. No amount of reconciliation will change the terrible arithmetic we now face, and no amount of blame will help you when your power goes off, or your air-conditioner craps the bed, or your toilet succumbs to Newton’s second law. Because even if you could magically eliminate all the illegal labor today, how are you going to persuade Americans to learn the necessary skills tomorrow?
My plan, for what it’s worth, is to tell the truth. Most people have no idea how the skilled trades can lead to a prosperous career. I think if more Americans learn the facts about the opportunities that currently exist, the skills gap might start close. If I’m right, I think that would be good news for liberals, conservatives, progressives, independents, and anyone else who shares my addiction to a reliable infrastructure. If I’m wrong, well…how much damage can one guy do, talking about good jobs that actually exist?
Anyway, those are my “concerns,” Russell. If you share them, I’d welcome your support. (In fact, I’m pretty sure I could “reconcile” your generous donation at mikeroweworks.org)