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Maria Gutzeit: Has America stopped valuing hard work?

Posted: September 6, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 6, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Right now we have an economy in transition, with close attention paid to job reports and which business sectors are hiring.

A bigger question is: Have we stopped valuing labor? Do we secretly value not working or faux working more than working?

There is talk about “clean jobs” and “working smarter, not harder” and “the information age.” It sure sounds nice. Effortless. Stylish. Slick.

However, do we think about all the jobs it takes to get the world to “go,” and do we value them?

Just yesterday I watched a semi-truck driver pull out of a tiny off-street parking spot into traffic on a narrow road in one smooth turn. I marveled at his skill, knowing had he not done it right, traffic could have been snarled for at least 10 minutes while he executed a five-point turn.

I was sure I couldn’t have even parked that giant rig in the first place without taking out a nearby building wall.

Welders building bridges. Electricians programming PLCs (little computers) that make water flow, chemicals heat or lights turn on or off at just the right setting.

The “stop sign guy” standing in the baking heat directing traffic for road construction. The teacher wrangling 30 kids all day long. The roofer working when it is 110 degrees.

The lawyer getting critical paperwork signed at a hospital on a Sunday. The police and fire folks who literally risk their lives. The government staffers who surprise us by being helpful and actually answering their phone.

All of these are stars who make our world “go” without so much as a thank you.

Perhaps with age we learn to appreciate the “good” real estate agent who helps us out time and again. The mechanic who fixes our car on time and without weird add-on things we don’t understand. 

The bank clerk who, despite bad handwriting and money flying all day long, manages to keep accounts straight, pennies correct, and still remembers the name of our kids and hand out lollipops.

Sure, there are plenty of bad workers out there. Plenty of folks happy to do a bad job and lawyer up for some added cash when terminated.

Nevertheless, do we notice the good workers of every pay grade? Do your choices reflect “valuing jobs and the economy”?

If we value small business, why do we hire “cash under the table” unlicensed contractors who only make it harder for the legitimate small businesses to survive?

If we say we’d rather buy items “made in the USA,” why do we add the silent caveat “as long as you don’t make it in a factory in my town”?

We all know the adage about having it cheap, fast, or good ... you just get two of the three. If we prioritize the cheapest in labor, inherently we admit either timeliness or quality don’t matter. 

That may not be good for us long term. Do we want cheap bridges that might fall down .... because we skimped on engineering or concrete or steel or installation skill?

Do we want the cheapest maid, even if it means dog fur remains under the bed and our neighbor’s housecleaning service with the insured, tax-paid workers is going to go under?

Do you prefer a tenured pilot or anyone who can pass the test flying your jet on the family vacation? Yes, even shoveling asphalt, running a bulldozer, fixing a car — those jobs can be done right or they can be done wrong.

Woe be it if people prioritize cost as a reason to pick a worker or service. Sure, it may be “just” plumbing, or pest control, or printing, today.

However, know that if you pick solely based on cost, if that seems like a good way for the economy to roll, your boss or your customer might also be inclined to make the same choice.

Perhaps, you might say, “some jobs can be done by anyone because they can’t really be messed up.” Let’s take a simple task, like making lunch.

“Feed me,” you say. Someone could throw two slices of generic white bread at you. Another person might do a nice plate of salmon, caper berries, greens, and a homemade roll.

Did both of them feed you? Yes. Did both have the same value? No. Whether it’s packing lunch, nursing, accounting, engineering, drywall hanging or diaper changing, you can indeed do a really good job or do a marginal job.

We need to recognize the difference and appreciate those who perhaps do a job we can’t do or won’t do and do it well. Their efforts help make our world “go.”

Maria Gutzeit is a Santa Clarita business owner, mom, and elected official. She serves on the board of the Newhall County Water District.


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