‘Dirty Jobs’: Mike Rowe Thinks Show ‘Challenged’ Views of Opportunity in America

by Taylor Cunningham
(Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Mike Rowe thinks that many Americans have given up all hope of finding opportunities in the workforce. But Dirty Jobs has helped reinstall faith in the system.

Opportunity was at the forefront of the old American dream. Past generations believed that as long as someone worked hard enough, they could live a comfortable and enjoyable life. But as the cost of living increased over the years, people lost faith in the dream.

“Of all the things dividing us today, the very existence of opportunity is somewhere near the top,” Mike Rowe told Philanthropy in 2017. “Half the country is convinced that opportunity is dead. That the system is rigged. That there is simply no hope of finding a meaningful career that pays a fair wage.”

Rowe said that it’s hard to raise the spirits of the workforce when everyone is so disillusioned. But Dirty Jobs has managed to challenge the false belief that “opportunity is dead.” By showcasing skilled laborers, viewers see with their own eyes that they can still live the American dream. They’re just looking for opportunities in the wrong places.

“It’s almost impossible to reinvigorate skilled labor if people believe that nonsense,” Rowe continued. “Just as it’s impossible to champion apprenticeship programs if everyone believes that success can only occur if you purchase a four-year college degree. Dirty Jobs challenged those misperceptions in every episode. But I wanted to challenge them in a more tangible way, with proof that opportunity was alive and well.”

Mike Rowe Isn’t Sure Which Job is the Dirtiest, But This One’s In the Running

Mike Rowe has highlighted some downright disgusting, but admirable, occupations on his long-running series Dirty Jobs. Since 2005, he has showcased the unsung heroes who work in gross, dangerous, and obscure fields. But which dirty job was actually the dirtiest? For Rowe, that’s a hard question.

Over the years, Mike Rowe has seen it all. He’s sloshed through feces-filled sewer systems with inspectors. He’s helped researchers analyze the vomit of water snakes in Michigan. And he’s tested stainless steel suits in shark-infested waters. So when Good Magazine, asked Rowe which job was the dirtiest of all, he had a hard time choosing just one.

But a certain occupation was definitely the filthiest—in the most literal sense. In one episode, Rowe tried his hand at making bone black. And the job left him covered in char for days.

“Lately, I’ve been reminiscing about bone black, a process whereby cow bones are turned into a fine black powder and then sold to cosmetics companies,” Rowe shared. “The substance is like black baby powder, and gets deep into your pores and lungs and pretty much anything else. I was unrecognizable by lunch, and not much better after three showers. A week later, I still looked like Adam Lambert.”