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The Skill that Every Job Requires?

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My wife has warned me, for my own sanity, to stop torturing myself. But I can't help it.

Whenever I read a news article about immigration or the dismal economy or some other political topic, I scroll down to the Comments section to see what the theoretical average American thinks about the situation.

This is always a mistake. The ratio of insightful comment to shrill diatribe is about one in ten. Of course, it's much higher for you HuffPo readers (and really, I'm not just saying that... ahem).

One of my favorite comments, which has appeared with disturbing regularity across a wide variety of forums and topics, is the following:

"I can't even apply for a job because I don't speak Spanish!"

Let's side aside the fact that this concept - that one is completely unemployable because he/she doesn't speak Spanish - is wildly unlikely. Besides our own sense that this claim is, at best, an exaggeration, there is the simple fact that the vast majority of jobs are silent on the idea of Spanish fluency.

Also, more than a few monolingual types seem to have found employment in this country. We could also point out that Latino males, many of whom speak the apparently recession-proof language of Spanish, had one of the highest rates of unemployment of any group during the economic downturn.

Still, let's assume that it's true. John the English Speaker can't find a job anywhere because he lacks a specific skill (i.e., speaking Spanish). Now let's substitute another skill in that equation, such as mastering Microsoft Office.

His sentence now becomes "I can't even apply for a job because I don't know Microsoft Office!"

First, this phrase is far more likely to be true than his claim about Spanish. But more important, our reaction to this exclamation will probably be "Perhaps you should take a class" or "There are other jobs" or "The job market is changing. You have to deal with it."

We certainly wouldn't say, "It's your right as an American to insist that people hire you for possessing the bare minimum skill set," which quite frankly, is what the entry "speaks English" would be on a resume.

At the very least, one would think that we would tell John the English Speaker to simply pull himself up by his bootstraps. That seems to be good advice for minorities. So perhaps we would insist that he work harder, or stop whining, or issue some other empty insistence that he not pester us.

But we will not. It is much more popular to bemoan the injustice of John the English Speaker's plight.

Now, it's true that speaking Spanish improves one's odds of finding a job - but so does mastering Microsoft Office or knowing how to fly a plane or being able to fix a carburetor. It's a skill, one that is increasingly in-demand.

Where is the injustice in that?

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