Office jobs are not better than skilled trades, says poll

Most Americans who heard Eric Adams say recently that “low-skilled workers” lack the academic skills to “sit in a corner office” probably winced at the New York mayor’s gaffe.

That is, if the findings from a new Fast Company-Harris Poll are any indication.

Asked if pursuing a trade career is ultimately any less promising than pursuing a white-collar office job, 65% of respondents said no, it isn’t. Around 1,000 people participated in the poll, which was conducted in December to check the pulse on national education issues. Among the respondents, women more than men called trade and office jobs equally promising (70% versus 59%). Also, there were generational differences, which broke down about as expected: While 57% of 18- to 34-year-olds said trade jobs could be just as successful, it jumped to 80% for the 65-and-up crowd.

Those findings, released today, might surprise the Big Apple’s new mayor.

At a press conference yesterday, Day 4 on the job, Adams—himself, a retired police officer—urged businesses citywide to resume in-person work at least for a couple days per week. He argued this move was necessary to “feed our financial ecosystem,” but his word choice could’ve perhaps been more elegant:

“My low-skilled workers, my cooks, my dishwashers, my messengers, my shoe-shine people, those who work in Dunkin’ Donuts—they don’t have the academic skills to sit in a corner office.”

His point was seemingly that empty offices hurt New York’s economy because it relies heavily on hourly workers and other types of tradespeople, everyone from janitors and baristas to shoe shiners and dry cleaners. These workers cannot work remotely like the person in the corner office can, so they’re disproportionately hurt by office closures. Adams also added a little more context this morning, telling CBS that critics are misconstruing his words: “I was a cook. I was a dishwasher.”

Regardless of his intent, Adams’s way of putting it quickly caused a backlash.

With a bachelor’s degree I worked part-time at Subway, as a receptionist, and as a cashier at a department store. I sold mattresses with a master’s degree. I also am human enough to know that your job does not dictate your value.

— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) January 4, 2022

Eric Adams could’ve said nothing but instead he said many blue collar workers are dumb.

— Young Daddy (@Toure) January 5, 2022

Other findings from the poll indicate that Americans do broadly see education as a pathway to workplace success, even as it’s become more cost prohibitive for many who seek it out. Seven in 10 Americans say higher education’s growing costs prevented at least one family member or friend from pursuing education beyond high school. Additionally, a majority of the country (72%) believes that community college should be free, and 76% agreed that student loan forgiveness “would have a positive impact on most Americans.”

The results from one question do demonstrate the uphill cultural battle aspiring tradespeople face, however. Despite the overwhelming support for trade careers, only 9% of those polled said they expected their child to attend any kind of technical school. Fifty-three percent predicted it would be a public or private university.