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I’ve Never Been Hired by a Poor Person

Robert Orben? Milton Berle? Ronald Reagan? Phil Gramm? Michael Dolan? Roger Ross? Sean Hannity? Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Quote Investigator: Years ago I heard a quotation that was credited to Ronald Reagan about the creation of jobs. I do not remember the precise wording, but here are two versions that express the gist of the quote:

No poor man ever gave me a job.

Have you ever been hired by a poor person?

Recently, I’ve seen the saying credited to former Senator Phil Gramm. Can you determine who made this remark?

Quote Investigator: The top etymological researcher Barry Popik has explored this saying, and the results given here build on his valuable work.

The earliest evidence for this expression located by QI was published in a 1977 profile of a professional comedy writer named Robert Orben. The New York Times article noted that Orben supplied humorous material to business men and women who were planning to deliver speeches. The story listed some of lines suggested by Orben. For example, here is an introductory remark and a retort aimed at a heckler [ORNY]:

The program director really wasn’t sure how I’d do tonight. I asked him the capacity of this room. He said, ‘It sleeps 300’.

Sir, to have an open mind doesn’t mean you have to have an open mouth.

The article also contained a statement similar to the one under investigation:

Don’t knock the rich. When was the last time you were hired by somebody poor?

In March 1978 the same quip appeared in a newspaper advertisement for a shop called “Ross Jewelers” of Nashua, New Hampshire.

In December 1981 a South Carolina newspaper column titled “The Stroller” printed a version of the joke [SRSC]:

Here’s something to think about: Don’t knock the rich. When were you ever hired by a poor person?

In 1989 the famous comedian Milton Berle published a collection of his jokes that included a modified version of the quip. The second half was changed to an exclamation instead of a rhetorical question [MBPJ]:

I don’t knock the rich. I never got a job from a poor person!

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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