Geoffrey Owens works as a grocer… so what?

Former ‘The Cosby Show’ star faces scrutiny over his minimum-wage work

More stories from Rebecca Mennecke


Photo by Fox News

Known for his role on ‘The Cosby Show’ (right), Geoffrey Owens went viral over a photo of him bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s (left) was taken and posted online.

It began with a photo of Geoffrey Owens, a former “The Cosby Show” star, bagging groceries at a Trader Joe’s in New Jersey going viral and transforming into a greater conversation about work ethic and “job-shaming.”  How did something as innocent as scanning and bagging items capture the attention of national news?

Karma Lawrence, 50, was shopping when she noticed the star, who played Elvin Tibideaux on “The Cosby Show” for five seasons, working behind the grocery counter, and, “on a whim,” decided to snap a shot, like many fans do of Hollywood stars. She said she meant no harm in taking the picture.

“It wasn’t malicious,” Lawrence said in an interview with NJ Advance Media.  

The Daily Mail latched onto the article, and that is where trouble started.

One of the first points made in the article by the Daily Mail  was how employees working at Trader Joe’s make $11 per hour and how Owens wore a shirt with “stain marks on the front.”

The problem with such coverage comes in the form of what many have called “job-shaming.” Many minimum-wage employees have experienced this, whether from a rude customer, a prying relative or a concerned friend. Individuals with prestigious internships or fancy office jobs seem to be valued more than those working lower-paying jobs, even if the satisfaction from the job and the work ethic are the same. Both types of  jobs are important, and, sure, one pays less, but a job is a job. There should be no shame in working at Trader Joe’s, or any place for that matter.

Many college students can relate to this too, having worked minimum wage jobs at one point or another. We are told that someday we will go out and get a “real job.” But what does that even mean? Does that mean that my honest work as a retail worker, a grocer, a person flipping burgers at McDonald’s — minimum wage work — is somehow a fake job?

Thank goodness people were swift to defend Owens and his strong work ethic.

Chris Rankin, who played Percy Weasley in the Harry Potter films, tweeted his defense of Owen’s honest work.

“I worked in a Wetherspoons kitchen after being in Harry Potter,” he wrote. “I needed a job, no shame in that. And you know what? I really enjoyed it! You do what you need to do and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Working a minimum wage job shouldn’t be embarrassing. Working any job shouldn’t be embarrassing. It is a means to make an honest living — to provide for oneself. Some low-paying jobs can also be very self-satisfying. We need all sorts of professions for society to function well: doctors, janitors, professors, grocers, waiters, vets and the list goes on and on. Communities rely on a diverse population with all kinds of jobs, and these jobs must be filled in order for life to work out the way it does. So if we need all of these jobs filled, why do we shame minimum wage jobs?

I couldn’t say it better than Owens himself.

“There is no job that is better than another job,” he said. “It might look better on a resume and on paper, but actually it’s not better. Every job is worthwhile and valuable.”

Mennecke can be contacted at [email protected].