George Pyle: Somebody has to do those jobs

(Pat Bagley | The Salt Lake Tribune) This cartoon, titled "Livable Wage Hobbyists," appears in The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020.

Someone once told James Thurber, a famous writer and cartoonist for The New Yorker, that his books sounded better once they had been translated into French. Ever self-effacing, Thurber had the perfect answer.

"They tend to lose something in the original.''

Knowing that might help Lyle Hillyard feel a little better.

The Republican state senator from Logan found himself in a heap o’ Twitter trouble over the weekend when he pushed out a tweet that, he later said, didn’t mean what everyone thought it meant.

“A person working at a job that does not pay a livable wage really only has a hobby,” said @SenLyleHillyard. (Or whoever handles his social media accounts.)

After suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous retweets, understandably accused of a let-them-eat-cake attitude toward the state’s underpaid working poor, Hillyard proceeded to explain that he was trying to point out that there are more ways to get a job that does pay a livable wage than some people might understand.

Specifically, he said, more people who don’t see a college degree in their future should check out Utah’s various community colleges and technical schools, which offer training in fields where they are good-paying jobs out there for the taking.

He wasn’t specific about what jobs. But it is unquestionably true that a person can get a certificate in things like welding, auto mechanics, health care, transportation, hospitality, IT or HVAC and other construction trades, get it in a lot less time and for a lot less money (i.e., debt) than it would take to get a four-year university degree.

One sign that the local economy has a high demand for such skilled labor is news that part of the reason why the new state prison is going to be more expensive — and smaller, and later — than we were told originally (like that was a surprise) is that there is a shortage of construction workers out there. The rebuild of Salt Lake International Airport alone has sucked up an awful lot lot that talent and equipment

And it is a fact that Utah has several schools — public and private — where they can pursue such training.


But what about all those people who do, or who will be doing, all those other jobs? Serving food. Providing child care. Working retail. Are they all just stupid chumps?

Hillyard probably didn’t mean it, but what he said — and what he said about what he said — sounds way too much like the common Republican answer to anyone who is less affluent than they are. If you don’t like being poor, just stop it and be something else.

If only.

Of course, our economy is broken. As consumers, we want everything from hot coffee to day care (for children and the elderly) to home health care workers to stores with stocked shelves and short check-out lines (looking at you, Walmart) to delivery services that fulfill our every desire in less than 24 hours. Or less than 24 minutes.

But suggest that we pay for it, either as individual consumers or as multinational corporations, and the you are called a socialist.

In theory, we could train more people to do the technical school jobs that Hillyard is promoting. As they move up the ladder, other people would fill in the lower-paid occupations. And, in theory, there would be fewer of those people and the price of hiring them would go up.

But that never happens. The only way to make sure people who work 40 or 50 or 60 hours a week can afford to live around here is to raise the minimum wage, make access to health care the same kind of public service that education and public safety are and declare a Manhattan Project to provide scads more affordable housing hereabouts.

Otherwise, we will continue to step around those homeless hobbyists on our streets.

George Pyle

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, has been indulging his hobby of telling people off in print for 42 years.


Twitter, @debatestate