Devalue My Work, Devalue My Life:
Janitors, maids, housekeeping, physical plant, and orderlies; they are literally picking up after everyone else. What is a fair wage for people who make the world cleaner for others? Why are people who prepare “your space to your specifications” viewed as less critical, less valuable? Why does society believe they should be paid so low?
Perusing the internet reveals this work is labeled “entry level.” What does that mean? Does it mean they can expect to advance through the company? No. Not really, but it does mean it could be your first job. We’ll see if you can show up consistently, stay healthy, and do your work in a timely manner. The thing is — rarely if ever are people “entry level.”
Take me for instance, my first job, a summer job during high school. I cooked at an all you can eat restaurant. I cooked. Cooking is not entry level in restaurants, dishwashing and porter are entry level. I had the luck of taking a step up from the beginning, which helped me over the years avoid “entry level” positions, but not always.
What if you are unlucky and never seem to move past “entry level?” We know poverty is the number one reason children struggle in school. It precipitates drop out rates, and it causes people to score lower all around. People who don’t graduate from High School, who struggle to get a GED, and immigrants are the majority of people in “entry level” work even if it is their 10th job. How can we call it “entry level?” What if that person stays in that position their whole life, and performs in a way everyone notices? Doesn’t this set-up perpetuate poverty?
What if they love their job?
Now let’s play devil’s advocate.
People will say, “What we really need to do is encourage people to excel. To be more, to grow.” Entry level work is there for people who want to learn responsibility. Ok, if entry level work is for learning responsibility, then why is it undervalued, and underpaid even as the worker proves their reliability? What about the people who never falter in those positions but never “move up”, and never get a raise? If the point is, we should — all — always be striving to move into better paying positions with more responsibility, if this is the case, why is it there are so many people in upper level management who have never performed “entry level” work?
For me I call this as the “Downton Abbey Effect.” As society developed the feudal system, there became a set structure, and a set value to labor. If you watch Downton Abbey you will see broompushers were entry level even then. Lords and Ladies do not clean. Lower class people, who are there only by circumstances of birth, are paid less to be responsible for the upkeep of the estate. The status of the Lords and Ladies is held in check by people who are devalued. There is only one way to keep this economic imbalance in place, by disrespecting highly responsible people with lower wages.
Entry Level is the old class system on a grand scale… and I haven’t dredged up the issues that could be examined through race, or by way of a feminist critique.
I, for a long time, believed the dogma that “entry level work” was a central motivating factor for the betterment of human kind. I believed broompushers deserved their low wages. It wasn’t reading Nickled and Dimed that moved my point of view, but the realization that everything we do is critical. Interconnectedness is easily understood when you examine how labor is divided in a company big enough to hire broompushers.
Take hotels for instance. Without housekeepers doing exemplary work people give the hotels bad ratings. Even more than the front desk housekeepers are the first in line for criticism if the place looks bad. The first to be fired when something is done wrong. You believe that management is more responsible, but management does not clean poop off of toilets, or vomit out of carpet. Clean rooms turn into repeat customers. Now how much should we value work performed often by immigrants? If you despise the thought of cleaning up another persons vomit, then you seriously need to reassess the value of housekeeping.
Which ties right back into the Downton Abbey Effect. CEOs and upper management have created a world where people are taught that their work is so critical that they must be paid into the millions. They are the current worlds Lords and Ladies, heck some of them are actual Lords and Ladies! What our world is suffering from is a delusion, it believes people who grew up monied actually give a fuck about you. It believes billionaires want you to have what they have. It believes the investment classes want to share their wealth.
This is why, as we see the rise of Tech and Start-ups, we have to break free from these delusional notions of what “entry level” work really is. How do we properly compensate humans whose work is just as important as anyone else’s.
If you are going to create entry level work in your company, you should create ways for people to leave the entry way. However, I don’t believe the majority of people tasked with cleaning up your environment are being eyed to move up the proverbial ladder. Why not then — why not pay them in a respectful way?
In closing I want to talk about Mindfulness, a lovely buzzword that emerged from Buddhist Philosophy. How mindful are you if you refuse to recognize the importance of people who keep your space in order? You have no idea what mindfulness is if you won’t pay them their full value. Buddhism has another concept as important as mindfulness, that concept is equanimity. Let me draw on this quote to shine light on something just as hard to comprehend.
Equanimity is a protection from the “eight worldly winds”: praise and blame, success and failure, pleasure and pain, fame and disrepute. Becoming attached to or excessively elated with success, praise, fame or pleasure can be a set-up for suffering when the winds of life change direction. For example, success can be wonderful, but if it leads to arrogance, we have more to lose in future challenges. Becoming personally invested in praise can tend toward conceit. Identifying with failure, we may feel incompetent or inadequate. Reacting to pain, we may become discouraged. If we understand or feel that our sense of inner well-being is independent of the eight winds, we are more likely to remain on an even keel in their midst.
In many ways equanimity is our ability to understand judgment. If we can say something is pleasurable then in turn there is something painful, we judge one experience against another. If we employ equanimity we can see through the delusion of good vs. bad, boring vs. exciting. If you believe people who are broompushers should be paid less because it is an entry level position — then — what are you telling society about the people who make your working environment ready for you? What set of circumstances caused this group of people to be paid less? Simple economic inequality built up over thousands of years by way of oppression. Do you believe you are a mindful person if you support thousands of years of oppression? What will you do to become someone who loves and values each other no matter what kind of job is performed?
Our world is designing robots to do “mundane” work, but broompushers are not about to be replaced in record numbers within the next decade, or even the immediate decades following this one. Why? Constant movement is the reason people don’t want these jobs. It is the reason robots will not be able to do these jobs because they will lack mobility and speed for a long time to come. Simply put, they can’t keep up.
I originally published a verison of this article back in 2016. When people started to call grocery store workers and cleaning people heroes, I thought, now is a good time to dust it off, tighten it up, and republish. It’s clear some people are starting to see how disgusting and reprehensible wage disparities are. I hope this article helps more people see it for what it is, it’s wage slavery.