This is not the type of top 10 list that most people want to land on. Whether you chose your profession out of passion, happened upon it by accident, or you were pushed into it by necessity, at the end of the day, you want to know that the work you perform is making a difference. You may not be curing cancer or feeding the homeless, but still, it’s important to know that your job helps to make someone’s life better.
And so, to be included on the list of the least ethical professions, well . . . that’s not good news. Maybe “least ethical” is too polite of a term, but it really means that people in these professions are corrupt, depraved, immoral, unscrupulous, dishonorable, and disreputable. Bad to the bone.
It’s important to note that the list is a compilation of Gallup Poll surveys conducted in December 2013 and December 2014. It is based on the opinions of your fellow Americans, and not the result of scientific data. However, perceptions, whether real or imagined, are usually a stronger force than scientific proof, statistics, and facts. These perceptions may be based on a personal experience that leads to a generalization, or they may be the result of media-oversaturation of a particular profession.
No profession is all good or all bad (with the exception of professional criminals), and many of the professions on the list may be the victims of a few (but very high profile) bad apples. In any event, these are Gallup’s 10 least ethical professions.
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10 Auto Mechanics
OK, so maybe this profession has more than a few bad apples. It appears that everyone has a “bad mechanic” story, and many people have multiple stories of being overcharged for repairs or being charged for unnecessary parts or repairs. And it doesn’t help the profession’s image when investigative TV shows conduct undercover sting operations that always seem to snare greedy mechanics trying to take advantage of those who are not knowledgeable regarding car repairs.
9 Local Office Holders
Local politicians such as mayors, council members, and commissioners, are often in the news for bickering with one another, and being involved in various scandals. The late Washington D.C. mayor Marion Barry, and Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford, both videotaped smoking crack, certainly didn’t help to raise the ethical bar. And then there’s Providence’s former mayor Vincent Cianci Jr., who was forced to resign when he went to federal prison for racketeering; Birmingham’s former mayor Larry Langford, sentenced to 15 years in prison on 60 counts of bribery, fraud, and money-laundering; and Detroit’s former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, convicted on 24 counts of racketeering and extortion.
8 TV Reporters
TV reporters are expected to present news that is unbiased and factual, but far to often, this does not appear to be the case. In the race to break news stories, they often repeat rumors and innuendos without verifying sources and checking the accuracy of information. Also, many TV reporters cloak their stories in personal opinions, and this leads them to emphasize information that agrees with their point of view, while they conveniently omit information that does not support their personal perspective. Inclusion on the list of unethical professions is probably solidified by such actions as contacting a recently deceased person’s family for a response – when the family hasn’t been notified that there was a death, descending on an innocent spouse to ask for comments on a husband’s torrid affair, and shoving cameras in the faces of grieving families to get the “perfect” shot.
7 State Governors
State governors are steeply mired in politics, which may contribute to the appearance of being unethical. For starters, they have high-profile campaigns in which they sling mud at their opponents, and those negative campaign ads are deeply embedded in our subconscious. And the governors with presidential aspirations, such as Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Jerry Brown, Jeb Bush, and Bobby Jindal, face even more scrutiny and negative revelations as they reach for high rungs on the political ladder. And then, there’s the fact that governors make decisions that up to 49% of the people in their respective states may disagree with. On issues ranging from immigration to affordable health care to education, the decisions of governors affect everyone in the state, and if you didn’t vote for the person in charge, you’re more likely to question those decisions and the ethics of the decision-maker.
The necessity of the Truth in Savings Act and the Truth in Lending Act are just two clues that there may be some ethical issues in the banking industry. And the financial collapse of 2008 pretty much solidified a spot on this list for years to come. Financial reporter Matt Taibbi probably summed up the feelings of many Americans regarding the banking industry when he declared, “Goldman Sachs is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity . . . little better than a criminal enterprise that earns its billions by bilking the market, the government, and even its own clients in a bewildering variety of complex financial scams.”
You probably guessed that lawyers would be on the list, and you may have thought that it would be ranked higher. There are more “bad lawyer” jokes than there are jokes for any other profession. For example: Question: What do honest lawyers and UFOs have in common? Answer: You always hear about them, but you never see them. However, according to Herb Fox, an appeals lawyer in Los Angeles, “Most lawyers are not unethical. They simply advocate the side they represent, and that often looks ‘unethical’ to the party who disagrees.”
4 Business Executives
Business executives are also considered to be rather cutthroat in their attempts to generate profits, and quite a few are guilty of conflicts of interest and conflicts of loyalty, in addition to just plain, old tyranny and greed. For example, GM and Toyota seem to be recalling cars as fast as they can manufacture them, although the executives have long known about the defects in these vehicles. And according to The Business Pundit, Halliburton’s laundry list of ethical issues include exposing members of the National Guard to hazardous chemicals, covering up violations of corruption charges, and even overbilling the Army for food and supplies. And let’s not forget Wal-Mart’s predatory pricing, designed to drive competitors out of business, in addition to the company’s rock-bottom wages.
3 Advertising Practitioners
How many times have you seen a product or service advertised as “free,” when it was anything but free? How often has the advertised price been at least two to three times less than the actual price? How many times has a company advertised “free delivery” but failed to explain that this offer only applies to deliveries within a 10 mile radius? Or a company advertises a 32” flat screen TVs for $99, but fails to mention that they only have three TVs in stock. These types of deliberately misleading statements have helped to give advertising practitioners a bad name.
2 Car Salespeople
Deceptive sales tactics and predatory lending practices are two of the reasons why a Dateline report revealed that in at least 39 states, U.S. car dealerships are under investigation for fraudulent activities. From rolling back car odometers to failing to disclose prior accidents to selling lemons, consumers have long been suspicious of used car salespeople. However, according to Rip-Off Nation: Auto Dealers’ Swindling of America, salespeople at new car dealerships sometimes bilk consumers out of hundreds and even thousands of dollars by inflating the actual cost of new car warranties, and adding extras to the contract without the customer’s knowledge.
1 Members of Congress
Surely you knew they would land in the top spot. However, you probably didn’t know that their current marks – while never good – are at a 30-year Gallup Poll low. But here’s something to think about: According to an article on CNN's website, “We’re The Ones Who Are Unethical,” if Americans really care about the moral fiber of Congress, we wouldn’t keep electing them to office. Ironically, in an April Gallup Poll, only 22% of respondents said that incumbents deserved to be elected. However, over 50% said their own member of Congress should be re-elected. And in the November 2014 midterm elections, over 90% of incumbents won their re-election bids. Perhaps that says more about us than it does about Congress.
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