Utah lawmaker ‘ratioed’ after comparing low-wage jobs to ‘hobbies’

A tweet Jan. 31, 2019 by Utah Sen. Lyle Hillyard (R-Logan) was "ratioed" — that is, replies outnumbered likes and retweets. Critics called his remarks callous and out-of-touch with the economically vulnerable.

A Utah lawmaker was broadly criticized this weekend after tweeting: “A person working at a job that does not pay a livable wage really only has a hobby.”

State Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said he intended to highlight the availability of training options for higher-paying jobs. But the tweet was quickly “ratioed” — that is, responding comments far outnumbered “likes” and retweets.

And the reactions were not positive.

Images of Marie Antoinette, a guillotine and Rich Uncle Pennybags from the board game Monopoly quickly appeared in the roughly 200 replies that piled up after Friday’s tweet.

“All I can say is that I know several people with 2 or 3 ‘hobbies,’ Senator,” tweeted Jeffrey Merchant, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party.

“Senator, be careful what you reveal,” warned state Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, with a GIF of Rich Uncle Pennybags waving his cane.

“A hobby implies pleasure and diversion. Not the yoke of obligation that, while underpaid, is imperative to put food on the table,” wrote Los Angeles attorney Jane Shay Wald.

“This is incredibly disrespectful of hardworking Utahns. ... I worked 60-hour weeks as a child care provider for six years,” tweeted Murray City Councilwoman Kat Martinez. “I guess it was just my hobby.”

“No, that person is struggling to pay bills and is suffering under the inflation you are ignoring when you supported the tax reform to broaden the sales tax," replied former South Jordan City Councilman Chuck Newton, referring to tax legislation that was repealed last week in the state Legislature after a successful signature campaign would have put the controversial package, including a food tax hike, on the ballot.

Hillyard, a co-chairman of the tax reform task force that produced the now-discarded legislation, told The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday that he bristled a bit at the criticism on Twitter.

“I guess it bothers me when people judge, because ... it was not intended in any way to disparage anyone stuck in a job like that," Hillyard said.

Online, Hillyard tried to contextualize his remark, later tweeting that he was trying to emphasize the availability of job training.

“The comment about a low paying job being a hobby is said while presenting information about ATC training. This training is easy to enter and complete, there is usually little debt left after completion, and a good job waiting when done. It is well worth the effort,” Hillyard tweeted Saturday.

That tweet also was ratioed — as was a reply tweet he also posted Saturday.

“I didn’t even realize it was possible to make what he said worse,” Seattle attorney Brandi McNeil wrote amid other users’ GIFs of people digging holes.

“'Little debt?' So there is debt? You have no idea how a significant portion of the population actually lives do you?” another replied.

Hillyard told The Tribune he wrote the tweet after watching a presentation on job training through Utah’s technical colleges.

“They’re open enrollment; they have good jobs waiting for people,” Hillyard said. “It’s really a golden opportunity that people don’t know much about. People who are making less than they should can get involved. ... Most of the graduates of these technical programs are making more money than the teachers."

Hillyard noted that the training programs often take months, rather than years, and may be more attainable than people realize.

“There’s more to life than just simply making money, but it’s really sad to me that people are in the types of job that really don’t have the future to them. It’s possible, with some sacrifice, to change that.”

He acknowledged that months of training still may not be a practical option for people living week to week.

“Maybe some people can never do that. I’m sorry for them, but I think we’ve tried to make [technical programs] open enough that it’s possible. It’s hard, but possible.”