Worst Jobs to Have: Presidential Candidates Tell Theirs

In an earlier column, I listed some of the worst jobs in America, pay-wise. In keeping with that spirit, here are more of the worst jobs to have, per our presidential candidates (as reported on USA Today).  Before she was Hillary Clinton, Hillary Rodham worked as a dishwasher in the summer of 1969 in Alaska. She scrubbed dishes at Mount McKinley National Park in order to pay for her trek across the 49th state.

Dish washing, however, was not the worst job that she had. Hillary says, "My worst job was sliming fish in a fish cannery in Valdez." The presidential hopeful says she was reprimanded for not sliming fast enough and moved to a packing line. That was also one of the worst jobs to have, apparently, and she was fired after reporting that spoiled fish were being packed; even back then she was a rabble rouser!

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World's Worst Jobs and Lowest Pay?

Democratic candidate Bill Richardson spent the summer of 1967 laying sod in Cape Cod and recalls it as: "Backbreaking work. And I think the minimum wage at the time was under two dollars."  Another Democrat, John Edwards, worked summers at a textile mill: "I cleaned out overhead in the weave room, which is where all the crap goes. And I'd be up there climbing around, knocking the stuff down."  Over on the GOP side, Mitt Romney remembers, at age of 15, cleaning out sewage at his uncle's Idaho ranch.

Republican Mike Huckabee has mixed memories about his job at JC Penney: "Just as I'd get all the fingerprints wiped off the door, somebody would come and they'd put their hands all over the glass." Democrat Christopher Dodd once toiled as a construction worker, while Barack Obama says his worst job was at a Baskin-Robbins because he gained weight from all the ice cream.

Top 10 Worst Jobs in America: Today

What about the average Joe? According to an article in Alternet.org on the Top 10 Worst jobs in America, poultry processors have it rough. With a turnover rate five times the average job, poultry processors suffer from cuts on knives, being bit by birds and carpal tunnel syndrome. The fun doesn't end at work; many workers actually live in trailers on company land and pay "rent" through deductions from their small pay.

"Sewing machine operator" doesn't sound so bad. According to the PayScale Research Center, garment workers' wages are between $9.96 and $7.95 per hour. But operators must endure intense noise, sit for long periods of time and work under deadlines; not surprisingly, repetitive stress injury is routine. Unemployment is always looming because of competition overseas and the underground market here at home (NY and LA especially).

Top 10 Worst Jobs in Science

Those in the scientific field have their share of lousy jobs as well. According to Popsci.com's list of the Top 10 Worst Jobs in Science, working as a volcanologist leaves a lot to be desired. One should enjoy mountain climbing while dodging magma, volcanic ash and incandescent rock. You're also carrying monitoring equipment amidst incinerating clouds of gas. The verdict? Dozens of volcanologists have been killed, with many more injured.

Working as an anthropologist may sound exciting, but it can be very distasteful when studying endangered apes. Harvard University anthropologist Cheryl Knott knows first hand via "noninvasive monitoring of steroids through urine sampling." She and her colleagues much attach bags to poles and follow (beneath) apes in the jungle in hopes of "catching" a urine sample. How much does this pay? Well, an anthropologist salary ranges from $30,600 to $62,500, according to the PayScale Research Center.

There must be something wrong with me, or it is the passage of time, but I look back fondly on nearly all my "worst" jobs. Tarring roads for my local town, sorting cucumbers at a pickle factory, and flipping burgers at a fast food joint, all were fun, usually because of the people with whom I worked.

I do want to nominate "graduate student on a nightshift at a high energy physics experiment" to the list of worst jobs in science. Nobody died (while I was doing it), but there was a lot of ionizing radiation (the bad kind), high voltage equipment, noise, dirt, and running around trying to fix equipment in response to automated alarms, all after having tried to sleep during the day in a dorm room without air conditioning.

Which jobs would I have the hardest time doing again? Cleaning offices and teaching introductory physics to college students. Why? I am not great at doing the same thing over and over again, and both these jobs have that characteristic. About the fourth year of teaching physics, I started getting really mad at the students: I had explained it all to them last year! Of course, they were not the same students, but it was the same material for me. I don't know how Broadway actors do it...

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Cheers,

Al Lee

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