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Monday, August 5, 2019

Singin’ the Blues

Chicago has its business legends. The current crop includes names like Ken Griffin, founder and CEO, Citadel; Sam Zell, chairman, Equity International; and Thomas Pritzker, chairman of the Pritzker Organization. Actually three Pritzker names appear on the list of wealthiest Chicagoans.

Several years ago, I was given a book titled, If Christ Came to Chicago. It was written by the British Journalist William T. Stead who was the son of a Congregational minister. The book itself was termed an “inflammatory exposĂ© of Chicago’s political corruption and the underground economy.”

The book sold a remarkable 70,000 copies on the day it was published in 1894. I suppose this was the case, in part, because it included a color-coded map showing the precise locations of numerous brothels and saloons. Add to that an appendix containing addresses, proprietors, and the owners of the unfavorable properties it revealed.

Stead had a notable demise. He went down with the Titanic in 1912. Perhaps his passing was celebrated by those who felt embarrassed or even harassed by readers of his book.

The fourth chapter of Stead’s book was titled, “The Chicagoan Trinity.” The triple salute to the business elite went to Marshall Field, Philip Armour, and George Pullman. It was Pullman who “made the Pullman car a household word in every land for its convenience, its comfort and its luxury.”

I mention the names of some of these current and past business “tycoons” because many attribute their savvy and investment in Chicago to helping make the city as vibrant as it is today. Field, Armour, and Pullman created opportunities for thousands upon thousands of workers.

Charles Kettinger, in his article titled, “The Importance of Blue Collar Work,” stated, “In the modern world, more than ever before it seems, societies and economies value those people who are white collar workers. Businessmen, physicians, and lawyers are exactly these types of people.” And it is true.

However, anyone who knows Chicago is also very much aware of the importance of the “blue collar” worker. The human resources crowd defines this category of worker as someone whose profession requires them to perform a good amount of manual labor. Most are paid hourly wages or get paid by the job. Some have salaries. Many times they’re part of a union.

Jeff Haanen is the executive director of the Denver Institute for Faith & Work. Christianity Today recently published a piece by Jeff titled, ‘‘Tis a Gift to Do ‘Undignified’ Work.” And, quite frankly, isn’t that often the perception of those who fit the “blue collar” description?

Jeff offers some serious concerns. In a 40 year period beginning in 1975, the GDP in our country tripled. Personal consumption has soared along with that. What else has significantly spiked? Rates of suicide, drug abuse, and social isolation. And as was pointed out at a recent conference I attended, “loneliness” is now at seemingly epidemic proportions in all age groups.

Haanen offers this criticism. “The standard of living afforded to low-skilled work has declined—and so has our collective appreciation of the work done by millions of lower-wage workers.” The solutions to which he points come from various voices who advocate possible social policy changes to increase wages and educational opportunities. Those can be debated.

What should NOT be missing from the value of the work equation is to recognize the massive contribution to our economic wellbeing that derives from blue collar work. The positive reinforcement of this can be done in various ways—starting in the home. Like…stop teasing our kids to move beyond blue collar jobs. Encourage talents to be developed, but let’s keep the value of the work done by everyone at a positive level.

Jesus of Nazareth apparently liked the blue collar crowd. He picked several to be His disciples. And to them He said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28, NLT)

The humble servant. Sounds like a role for blue and white collars to me.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Watch for a new YouTube program and podcast with Mark Elfstrand beginning in late summer.

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