Underrated in America: The trades

I'm the first person in my immediate family to go to college. And I make vastly less than any of them. Why? While I was paying the big bucks for fancy-schmancy degrees, they were plying their trades.

Dad's a pool-man and manufacturer of pool tools. Brother Dave is a sign-painter. Both are hard-working, entrepreneurial, and prosperous as a result.

Sometime in the Go-Go '80s, it seemed that the archetypal American worker lost cache. The hard-working tradesman got overshadowed by the flashy, money-making executive. All you ever read about was how to get an MBA, how to get a white-collar job. Where Rosie the Riveter was once the symbol of honorable American Labor, she was replaced 40 short years later with Gordon Gekko. (And you see where the bankers have led us.)

Not everyone can or should go to college. You can make a better living working as a tradesman than you can in any number of jobs that require a four-year-degree (I'm thinking, ah, journalism...for one). How much Joe-the-Plumber actually earns notwithstanding, skilled tradesmen can and do earn a robust living, and in many ways have more control over their incomes than any corporate middle manager.

Don't miss the rest of our series on Underrated In America!