WASHINGTON (SBG) – One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and the current unemployment rate is still over 6%, a number that doesn’t include the millions who gave up looking for a job and dropped out of the workforce altogether.
Mike Rowe has had plenty of jobs — many of them dirty. As the former host of the Discovery Channel’s show Dirty Jobs, Rowe has a unique perspective on the pandemic’s effect on blue-collar workers.
“You can walk down any street in any town in this country and find neighbors who are wildly disparate in their experience and in their circumstance,” said Rowe to The National Desk’s Jan Jeffcoat. “I can’t speak on behalf of all blue-collar workers, but I can say that essential work has never been in the headlines like it is today.”
As the nation focuses on prioritizing vaccinations for essential workers and those at higher risk, Rowe says there are unintended consequences of labeling the workforce as essential and non-essential.
“What you do when you focus on essentiality is you also labeled 40-50 million other people as nonessential,” said Rowe. “What happens when you call 40 million people, non-essential? What happens when you prohibit those people from making a living? Well, nothing good.”
Rowe says one of the big lessons he’s learned throughout the pandemic is that “there is no such thing” as a non-essential worker.
“Everybody’s essential to somebody, even if it’s just themselves or their spouse or their family,” said Rowe.
One question Rowe still gets from his time hosting Dirty Jobs: Why was everybody on your show having so much fun?
“What do these dirty jobbers, as a group, know that the rest of us have forgotten?” said Rowe. “They understand the importance and the value of feedback because they get it all the time. You’ve got all these visual cues regarding your progress, and people are starving for that.”
He also credits a “band of brothers” mentality and job security for why so many people in the jobs he highlighted on his show were “more engaged and more balanced.”
With COVID cases on the decline and the majority of Americans now expected to be able to access the vaccine by the end of May, many are hoping we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in regards to the coronavirus pandemic. But what might that mean for the job market, as some businesses reopen, and others remain shuttered permanently?
“I’ve been arguing for the last 13 years that people who have a skill that’s in demand, and who are willing to go to where the work is, have unbelievable opportunities. When we punch through the other side of this, I believe that’s going to be true in spades,” said Rowe.
Occupations such as welding, plumbing, electric, heating and air conditioning — “those skills don’t go on holiday just because there’s a lockdown,” said Rowe.
“They are the very definition of essential workers, and they’re going to be able to write their own ticket for years to come,” said Rowe. “If you’re willing to travel, if you’re willing to get your hands dirty, there’s never been a better time to master a skill that’s in demand than right now.”