Be proud of your “McJob”

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 10, 2003

NFIB Focus-Jack Faris

It came as no surprise when the restaurant chain McDonald’s recently took umbrage at the unveiling of the term “McJob,” in the new edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. CEO Jim Cantalupo challenged the publisher for defining the word as “a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement.”

The incident could lead one to believe that those who collect words and phrases may be spending a little too much time watching reality TV or swallowing Hollywood’s definition of work – hook, line and sinker.

Here’s a suggestion for lexicographers: take off your pince-nez and go visit some of America’s small businesses to learn what work is all about. It’s easy to find them. There are some 24 million of them, so they won’t be hard to find.

Chances are very good that the entrepreneurs you’ll encounter at a majority of these up-and-coming little firms got their start at something you might describe as a McJob. Sure, the pay was not great and few skills were required. But you missed the most important point: Those entry-level positions are where entrepreneurs who now own and operate their visions of the American Dream, initially formed their strong work ethics and business management skills.

It’s unfortunate that the overrriding implication put forth by such a highly reputable publisher seems to assert that work isn’t worth anything unless it’s a salaried position that comes with a white collar and a long title. There’s little doubt that those who gather such street lingo are painfully unaware that American small firms – which, by the way, comprise 99 percent of the nation’s employers – provide work for more than half of the non-farm, private-sector labor force in the country.

It stands to reason that if the dictionary compilers don’t know that, they most certainly are oblivious to the fact that small firms provide most initial on-the-job training and exposure to the labor force for new entrants. And those Main Street businesses are also more likely to employ younger workers, older workers, former welfare recipients and women.

When it comes to compensation, small businesses pay their employees using the same means that large employers do. Some pay by the hour, others with salaries, commissions and tips; and more than halfpay periodic bonuses or profit sharing. Few have any full-time employees earning the minimum wage.

When it comes to benefits, small firms do their best to compete with their larger counterparts. Almost two-thirds offer health coverage and three out of four provide paid vacations. But the greatest benefit that they provide is work. Work is a valuable asset to a nation that honors free enterprise, because it instructs and inspires future generations of entrepreneurs to continue building a great society.

To demean basic employment defames the visions and sacrifices of millions of American employees and small-business owners who understand that work is more than a job. It is a path to a better life and the key to controlling one’s economic destiny.

JACK FARIS is president of the National Federation of Independent Business, the nation’s largest small-business advocacy group. More information is available online at