Is there a word for a job that doesn't actually contribute to increasing productivity in a country and even if you make them disappear, it won't change the way people live or the country's economical prosperity for example being a street vendor, a busker, a clergyman who just preaches and talks around and receives money, fortunetellers, or a person who sells cigars along the street (like a vendor). Usually these jobs are frowned upon by economists.

In my native language there is a word for it that its literal translation is a pseudo-job. Is there an English word for this kind of jobs?

Edit: To make the meaning clearer I add an example from a context: I saw a local newspaper headline going like this: "Our skilled labor force now in danger of doing pseudo-jobs." In the article it argues that we cannot provide our skilled experts with job opportunities that they can benefit us most. As a result they start pseudo-jobs like being mourners, vendors, fortune tellers, flyer distributors, etc.

If you want to write this piece of news in English, how would you go?

  • @James Kilfer Actually there is a general debate on whether they're real jobs or not. In sociology, (illegal) vendoring is considered a real job though you can always buy some fruit leather from a supermarket. Perhaps the definitions are alittle tricky based on whether you live in a developed or a developing country but here kids are always advised not to buy anything from vendors. Based on this, fortune telling is probably not a productive job though there's demand for it. The ecpression in my language is exactly what I put there i.e. an unreal job.
    – Yuri
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 18:09
  • As FumbleFingers mentioned "who defines utility" however we have such a general expression to call these jobs and I wondered if there is a similar expression in English too.
    – Yuri
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 18:11
  • @Yuri I think your question may be as much about culture as about language. At least in the U.S., there is no debate: the examples you cite are all "real" jobs. We don't think of handing out flyers or busking as "pseudo-jobs." Rather we think of them as jobs with, let's say, a very low ceiling for advancement. Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 19:32
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    I've heard the term "bullshit jobs" for unnecessary administrative work that could be eliminated without adverse effect. Not sure whether this is understood outside a small circle that cares enough about both economics and sociology to read a multi-page article, though. Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 0:35
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    Not sure if the word in your native language is colloquial (slang) but the expression oxygen thief comes to mind. Possibly a bit harsh. :-)
    – penfold
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 10:05

17 Answers 17


One problem is that, even if English has a word with the same meaning, that word would not indicate the same group of activities.  Many native English speakers would not consider vending or busking to be pseudo-jobs.  Street-vending provides convenience in addition to the offered goods.  Busking allows a performer to practice his or her craft in addition to exhibiting small-scale entertainment.  Even the guy wearing a sandwich board and distributing fliers is participating in the legitimate business of advertising. 

Granted, I doubt that most people would say that clergymen benefit the economy.  However, I wouldn't even want to consider discussing in a public forum whether clergymen benefit society -- religion can be a contentious and controversial topic, where I live. 


All that being said, there is a word in English that you may want to consider for your purpose.  The last two concrete examples that you've given are fortune-telling and professional mourning.  I'm not very familiar with professional mourning.  As an American, I find that such a thing doesn't happen in my culture.  However, I am familiar with excessively expensive funerals, with coffins that cost too much and burial plots that cost too much and wakes & memorial services that cost too much.  I'm also somewhat familiar with fortune-telling, card reading and tea leaf reading and palm reading and, of course, those that claim an inexplicable and inexorable psychic connection with the dead. 

One word that describes both those activities is "scam".  A scam is a way to gain money without providing equal value.  Many (but not all) scams are illegal.  Even those scams which are legal are never prestigious.  The economy does not benefit from a scam, and society views any scam as distasteful. 

A person who gets his or her primary income from a scam is a scam artist


It is entirely possible that, in your culture and your locale, a visible majority of street vendors are scam artists, in sharp contrast with the obvious social and economic value that many street vendors offer in my culture and locale. 

If you and I can agree that many fortune-tellers take money without providing value (to either the customer or to society), then there's a good chance that "scam" is the word you want.

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    You're welcome. I don't know why you need the translation, but I can imagine your telling a foreign friend "hey, around here, street vendors are scam artists" and (after a couple of follow-up questions) he'd understand you perfectly. Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 20:30
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    I don't think scam really works here, as it implies dishonesty or deceit. Some people might think fortune telling telling is a scam, but people who tell people fortunes and people who go to fortune tellers might both be genuinely considering their craft as valuable. If the fortune teller doesn't know anything about his craft yet claims he can tell the fortune, then he's scamming. If he has genuinely spent his life learning about the craft and then providing services to his clients, we cannot really say he is being deceitful. He might be wrong, but he's not cheating.
    – user13267
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 2:53
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    Same with professional mourning. Someone pays them to mourn, and they do what they are paid for. They're not really cheating anyone out of money. If I tell you to send me $2000 now and promise to send you $20M later on from an obscure country but then don't deliver on that promise, that's a scam. I don't think the examples here can really be called a scam.
    – user13267
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 2:54
  • "religion can be a contentious and controversial topic, where I live." Fortunately the OP is asking about a practice in the middle east, where religion isn't contentious at all (!)
    – James K
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 9:48

English has two separate concepts for what you have bound together in one:

sinecure: position that requires no work but still pays well

unproductive labor: paid labor that does not add to the national product

(But see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Productive_and_unproductive_labour#Neoclassical_economics)

  • As I see the idea behind this word is probably from Marxism that you properly mentioned. That's why it's sounds wierd in capitalist culture. Thanks.
    – Yuri
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 23:01

Busywork This typically applies to an individual's activities but can also apply to a group. Busywork is activity that creates the appearance of being productive, but actually adds no value.


In my opinion, pseudo job is pretty self sufficient. If I heard it being used, I would have no problem understanding its purpose.

Having scrolled through the current list of answers, though, I thought I'd throw my interpretations into the mix.

Grunt work

Typically though, grunt work is a bit labor intensive. Usually it's the jobs that others do not want to do e.g mopping the floors, cleaning out the gutters, picking up the trash thrown on the ground by other workers.

Expendable / Disposable Jobs

When the context involves a human being, typically we say that person is expendable. Just like a paper bag is disposable. For instance, the metal buggies/trollies/carts you find out in the parking lots of the grocery/department stores have to be collected by someone. Some might call this an easy job, but it doesn't mean that it's a satisfying one.

Anyone can do that job, considering they're not physically disabled. The job is expendable.

Another example might be someone in the 1800s cleaning horse manure out of the streets.


To extend on your actual question though, about this sentence being in a newspaper article

Our skilled labor force [is] now in danger of [taking] pseudo-jobs.

This is the same concept as college graduates having to take McJobs, instead of utilizing their education for which they are in debt. Check out such an article here.


The construction of this word involves the big company / franchise, McDonald's. The name McDonald's is so widespread that the "Mc" is able to be detached and prepended to about any word and it would demonstrate a "McDonald's experience", which really sucks in my opinion. The rhetoric in taking the "Mc" and attaching it to the beginning of the word "Job", is insulting of both the job itself and McDonald's.


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    McJob actually is included in some of the most reputable English dictionaries. Oxford, American Heritage, Collins, Merriam-Webster. McDonalds tried to get it taken out using various means but failed! Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 11:55
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    +1 McJob was my first thought; although it's not a perfect match for all of OP's examples, it's at least right for some of them.
    – AndyT
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 14:23

I suspect this might be a cultural phenomenon in your country, and there may be no corresponding notion in English. I have some terms that don't quite fit, but may be of use.

There is a word "makeweight", it means a member of a team who is only there to make up the numbers or fill a quota. Eg. "She may be the youngest programmer, but she's no makeweight".

For jobs that are of questionable legality there is the term "the grey economy" "Unemployment is forcing some to enter the grey economy, and drop out of taxation."

A third term is "Underemployed". Note this is not "unemployed". A person is underemployed if the have a job, but the job is below their training or experience: eg an engineer working as a street cleaner.

However the best bet may be just to use "pseudo-job" and explain the meaning at first use. The quote you gave, with examples of jobs would be easy enough to understand.

  • + 1 for the grey economy. Still I think there is a way to say that e.g. skilled engineers do some jobs that don't match their skills let's say being a street vendor. :) Obviously I gave up on the first notion that I put up there. As you and P. E. Dant mentioned it's probably something cultural.
    – Yuri
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 19:50
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    Another term is "underemployed" For someone who is working in a low paid job below their training or experience.
    – James K
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 19:54
  • If it's the case I think you should include this in your answer then because it's the closest to what I meant. I didn't know we can call them unemployed. It's a good point. So the headline can be translated somehow into "our skilled force are unemployed"
    – Yuri
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 20:03
  • 1
    "Underemployed" not "unemployed"
    – James K
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 20:08
  • Sorry I wanted to edit that but I forgot. Thanks.
    – Yuri
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 20:16

I think the class of jobs you've used to explain the term would fall under street hustling.

Hustling often means prostitution or selling drugs, but can also be used for "off-the-books" jobs that might be frowned upon, like selling loosies or designer knockoffs, but that aren't considered serious crimes. The difference in meaning would strongly depend on the context. Hustling is doing jobs or selling things for cash from people passing by on the street. The "worker" may not have a permanent spot and may not be doing the same work every day. They do what they need to do to earn some money, and it isn't a visible part of the economy because there is no sales tax or income tax paid on the sales/earnings.

I would call people who perform on the street while asking for money, like musicians with a place to drop some spare change if you like their playing, buskers and not hustlers. People who just ask for money without trying to sell you a service or product are panhandlers.

I would write something like your example sentence as "As the economy worsens, skilled workers are having to resort to street hustling to make ends meet."

  • Thanks. Off-the-books jobs also can be considered as pseudo-jobs that I described.
    – Yuri
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 21:02


a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement

This is a term that became popular in the 1990s with Generation X. I personally first came across it in a novel by Douglas Coupland.

At the time several new words became popular using the prefix Mc- as a pejorative prefix. Perhaps based on the idea that McDonalds food is not real food. Or perhaps rather based just on the low-pay no-skill jobs anyone could get at McDonalds if they weren't qualified for a better job.

Believe it or not it has actually been included in several very reputable dictionaries:

The word even has its very own Wikipedia article.


You might consider

  1. low-skill jobs
  2. unskilled labor
  3. low-wage/low-paying jobs

3 usually implies 1 and 2 and vice-versa.


Unskilled labor is a segment of the workforce associated with a limited skill set or minimal economic value for the work performed.

Now, it says associated, but that does stop anyone with skills or higher education from doing them. This is typical of recent college graduates who are trying figure out their plans, for example.

Another term you might use is

menial work
Many chores that get labeled as menial are domestic, but other jobs outside of the home are sometimes also considered menial: stuffing envelopes, data processing, repetitive assembly line work

Please note, if the article (or you) intend to speak of honest work, then I would use the terms above. If you intend to speak of jobs that are not honest, then you might consider


  1. Slang
    a. To obtain something by deceitful or illicit means; practice theft or swindling.
  2. Slang
    a. To sell or get by questionable or aggressive means

To defraud; swindle.

Now, for some of these "borderline" jobs, where it might be technically legal but still deceitful (like fortune-telling), then I would call it "dishonest" or "deceitful" work. I feel like there is a better word to describe this, but I can't think of it at the moment.

  • Thank you. This also fits the context and serves my purpose. As I understand since this word that I asked can be an umbrella word different words can be used to describe it based on the context.
    – Yuri
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 20:50

Personally, I think of our lack of an eloquent translation is a cultural thing. From my experience, most Americans would probably say "bullshit" jobs for lack of a better term and I think most Engish speakers would probably understand it in the right context. Obviously this wouldn't work out in the local news paper in which case I think the wording would be "pseudo" jobs or possibly "minimum-wage" jobs. Again, depending on the context, "leech" or "parasite" might also be used if the phrase is to be used derogatory. Another term which is stretching it, but worth mentioning is "pariah," a sort of outcast or exiled phony. Most "entrepreneurs" start out with a seemingly pseudo-job. If they become successful the they earn the badge of being called an entrepreneur. If they fail then they become masters at...whatever the word is that you are looking for.


I don't have much knowledge of economics but the term that the questioner wants is

Disguised-Unemployment - Meaning of the word (I did not find this link, @yuri found it)

Speaking informally, it means someone who is employed but not according to his skill level. This happens when there are lot more applicants than jobs. As number of jobs are lot less, the people who did not get the jobs had to do jobs inferior to their skill level.

I am extremely sorry if somebody has already posted this term but a quick Ctrl + F does not show desired results.

  • 2
    Good find, but note that this is a term that doesn't have much currency outside technical economic language, and would need to be explained to a general audience
    – James K
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 9:45
  • I'm not a native speaker but based on the definition provided at the page I think that's probably the closest term describing the phenomenon in my country. Others are welcome to share their ideas here to help me get a good grasp of the term. Thanks :)
    – Yuri
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 9:50
  • @JamesKilfiger ok i will do that.
    – user37205
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 9:52

Some of the examples you gave fall under the heading of informal economy, where the work isn't tracked or taxed by the government. In the US, however, a lot of those street based jobs are regulated and formalized into the economy, with taxes calculated as individual contractors. This may be a cultural reference that is difficult to translate into a single compound word or phrase.


I think the word you're looking for may be gig, referring to short-term employment specific to a particular set of tasks. The term used to refer to a short (e.g. couple hours) period of work for a musician or musical group, but it's now broadened considerably. Being a driver giving someone an Uber ride is the new prototypical example of a specific job one might do in the "gig economy" that a lot of newspapers etc. are referring to and covering.

In the US, the “gig economy” is now so salient that the phrase and issues have entered the early exchanges of the presidential race.

The jobs you described are providing value to someone, reflected by the fact that people are paying to have those jobs done, but they don't provide the stability and ongoing labor-payment relationship traditionally associated with employment.


Since you looking for a combining form like pseudo-job the meaning is false, pretended, unreal and so on ... describing the behavior also describes the job, I think.

Some fine words (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 8th edition (app edition)),

slacker, noun, (informal, disapproving), a person who is lazy and avoids work

shirk, verb, to avoid doing sth you should do, especially because you are too lazy. There is no room in our organization for shirkers.

goof-off, noun, a person who avoids work or responsibility. He is a real goofy. or He is a real goofer at work.

  • Thanks, but I'm afraid it's not what I'm looking for. Please check out the Edit part I just added. Probably it'll help you get what I mean.
    – Yuri
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 18:57

The term non-job is used to refer to jobs considered not to be useful. It mostly seems to be associated with alleged wasteful spending in local government and novel job titles.

See Council cuts: Just what is a 'non-job'?, Tom de Castella, BBC News


The prefix token is often used to express something that is unnecessary or included for posterity only without having any necessary function.

done for the sake of appearances or as a symbolic gesture.

Source: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/token

So a token job would be a way to describe a job that has no real purpose or value that exists for some superfluous reason.

I think this is different slightly to the jobs you describe though. I would use token job to describe something that is useless, for example a person employed to stand in an elevator and press the buttons.


English has a few terms for the concept of a "fake job," a position that someone is paid to fill -- without doing any actual work.

This synonym for a "cushy position" emphasizes that the job is super-easy, a cinch, one that requires no effort or even much time.

2) Featherbedding

This refers to a practice of labor unions of requiring the hire of more union members than there is work for; to retain excess staff (normally union members) to prevent their unemployment.

3) A specialized use of this concept is "ecclesiastical benefice." Sometimes Church positions were filled by people who could collect money but who did not perform any work. This was a kind of unearned income, but which came to the holder by appointment rather than through investments. https://www.powerthesaurus.org/ecclesiastical_benefice/define


You are looking for the word “sinecure” my friend. I was looking for this word as well. I remember it because I read it in the book, “1984” by George Orwell. I looked it up because I didn’t know it at the time. This is a job given to someone to give them status or financial benefit with little to no actual work. You’re welcome.

  • Nobody appoints people to be street vendors, mourners, flyer distributors, buskers, or fortunetellers, so this doesn't really seem to work. Commented Aug 19, 2018 at 21:17
  • Thank you Matthew Achin for the effort +1. Although I feel that could be related, as Nathan Tuggy pointed out, it's a different concept. We could talk disapprovingly about those politicians who appoint some family member to a position just to provide them with a job. What I'm referring here is a bit different and that's totally understandable on your part because it's something out of a different culture that you might not be familiar with.
    – Yuri
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 10:02

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