Ivanka Trump Doesn’t Know How Work Works

Ivanka Trump's jobs plan is not only stupid and wrong, it’s lazy.

“Find Something New” embodies every wrong and dumb idea about how jobs work. But here are some ways to improve your career that actually work! 

credit: lev radin/Shutterstock.com

Ivanka Trump has had a series of interesting jobs. Her first big real estate job was with a money-launderer. Another major project she oversaw involved a likely money-laundering scheme for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. She also ran a jewelry business with a fraudster. She barely avoided getting arrested for a different real estate scheme in New York. And there are manymanymany other sketchy deals she’s participated in over the years. Other than her modeling work and a brief stint after college working for the real estate magnate Bruce Ratner, Ivanka’s entire career has been at her dad’s company, until she followed him to the White House. So, it's not surprising that she doesn’t know how work works. But even given sub-basement level low expectations, her lame attempt at a works project is still bad.  

Announced with much fanfare, the jobs program amounts to a website with links. Seriously. That’s all it is. There are links to one of those handouts high school guidance counselors give you, asking if you want to work outdoors or in an office, or if you like ideas or working under pressure. There’s a link to the entire Occupational Outlook Handbook of the Department of Labor that lists every job title in the country and tells you if it’s growing or shrinking. (Animal trainer, I was surprised to learn, is growing faster than average!) There are links to community colleges, and links to a few big corporations that say they want to help people find work. There are a lot of links, but none to any actual jobs that are open.  

For all its laziness and uselessness, the site is a perfect distillation of a lot of the inherited, poorly thought-through ideas that govern much career advice. Let me break them down: 

  • There are jobs, you just have to get off your butt and find one of them! 

  • This is the skill shortage fallacy: the claim that there are tons of jobs that are open and nobody wants. It’s just not true. Very few jobs stay open for long. When employers claim this, what they really mean is that they want people to work for wages that people won’t accept. I could argue there is a MacBook shortage in America, because I would happily buy a new MacBook for $25 but Apple won’t sell me one at that price. That is as absurd as arguing that there are “open” jobs that people won’t take. If they won’t take them: Pay more. If you won’t, then you really don’t have a shortage.  

  • I bet you idiots never thought of getting an education! 

  • As I have written elsewhere, there is a major crisis in education right now. For upper middle-class kids who go to a nationally known school and who come from a family in which both parents went to college, things are generally OK. College costs much more, and graduates have more debt, but—on average, overall—college is still a good financial decision. It dramatically increases lifetime earnings. (Again, that’s on average; your mileage may differ.)  

  • But the vast majority of people in higher education are not from those families. They are from poor families -- often ones in which the parents did not go to college -- and they are attending lower quality community colleges or private universities. In many cases, these schools are not good at retaining students. Many community college systems have graduation rates far below 25%. But at least they are cheap. Private universities are far worse; many students leave without a degree and with a lot of debt.  

  • There are wonderful community colleges, and a two-year degree can change lives. But for the majority of out-of-work individuals without a college degree, the idea that going to school will solve their problems is wrong. More of them will be deeper in debt and have more years without earnings, without improved career prospects. We need to fix our higher education system; it would make a lot of people, as well as the country overall, much richer. But the average out-of-work person can’t fix our entire higher education system, and the existing one has surprisingly little to offer.  

There is embedded in these ideas the fundamental argument of American politics: individual responsibility versus redistribution. Are we each fully responsible for our own success or failure? Or are many of us constrained by a system that rewards the wealthy and privileged at the expense of so many others?  

This newsletter is not about politics. Though, any cursory reading of my work would tell you what I think: Both are clearly true. I am, I suppose, something like a progressive capitalist. I think markets, when they work well, work wonders. But they often don’t work well. I think that many people can thrive far more than they do now, based solely on their own efforts. But I also think that there are some terrible systems that are designed to reward the wealthy and hurt the poor and middle class.  

The truth is, I don’t have a lot to offer to those who are most in need. I don’t believe that the Passion Economy is for everyone. It is hard for me to think of how someone can truly embrace a Passion Economy life if they don’t have some education and some sort of safety net – a bit of cash in the bank, family who can help, or even just a ready babysitter. The specific group that Ivanka Trump’s lame effort seems to be addressing—people with only a high school degree or less—have shockingly poor odds of success. There will of course, be outliers; some people—maybe even a lot of people—will succeed against the odds. That’s the nature of odds and averages; they don’t apply to everyone.  

However, for most people the news is not grim. I believe far more people can do far better, right now, than they realize. You don’t have to be Ivanka Trump. You don’t have to be in the 0.1%. You don’t have to go to an Ivy League school. You don’t have to have a rich dad who gives you a job. No. You can do very, very well. Right now. That is the entire point of the Passion Economy. That is why I did all the research, wrote the book, host the podcast, etc. Nearly everyone in the book and on the podcast is evidence of this idea. They aren’t rich kids. They also aren’t (as far as I know) money launderers and fraudsters. They’re regular folks who have figured out how to thrive in this challenging economy. And so can you.  

In a sense, Ivanka provided a good guide by showing us exactly how wrong the wrong ideas are. Or, more accurately, how wrong they are now. There is something about  Ivanka’s website that reeks of  outdated  thoughts, transporting me back in time to a lecture about machine tooling in some high school in the 1950s. In the past, when America’s economy was growing in a stable, predictable way, it actually did make sense to narrow your choices a bit. Do you want to work with your hands? Your brain? Your heart? Do you want to work outdoors? Indoors? With animals? The paths were fewer and clearer. There was work in a factory (25% of all jobs in the 1950s) or work as a support person in an office (another 25% or so). Healthcare was growing. So was home and office construction, and, with the growing suburbs, lots of work in landscaping, pool maintenance and that sort of thing. The jobs with real autonomy – the Don Draper kinds of jobs where you used your brain and made major decisions – were very few and were mostly relegated to those whose parents already had them.  

Today, though, the world is different. There are far more job titles, far more entire industries and types of jobs. I used to be able to answer the question “What do you do?” pretty easily. “I’m a reporter,” I would say. Now, I’m a podcast host, internet newsletter writer, and podcast company CEO. What are you? Did your job exist 50 years ago? Twenty? And what kind of job will you have in five years or 20? I am fairly certain there is no government database or jobs page that Ivanka links to that will describe what you do now and what you will be doing soon.  

For many people in serious struggle, this is bad news. If you are struggling to just make ends meet, uncertainty and chaos are destructive. But if you are lucky enough to be above the Passion threshold -- which I define as having gone to a college that people in other towns have heard of; having some hunger, ambition and curiosity; being comfortable with some risk (though not too much risk seeking); and having a bit of support -- then you will thrive. The chaos and turmoil can be scary in short bursts but in a constantly changing world, there are new opportunities appearing all the time. As we’ll discuss in this newsletter, and as each person in the podcast and book make clear: The key is to identify that part of the economy you are uniquely capable of understanding well enough and passionately enough to add true value. Every episode of the podcast explains how one person did that. I find them truly inspiring. It would be great to have national leadership that, also, has our backs. But for now, we can turn to each other.