at the bottom of the ladder

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at the bottom of the ladder

Occupying the lowest, most basic position in a given group. Quarks are at the bottom of the ladder in the physical makeup of matter. Tech startups may start on the bottom of the ladder economically, but, given their business model, they have a very high potential for growth.
See also: bottom, ladder, of

at the bottom of the ladder

 and on the bottom rung (of the ladder)
Fig. at the lowest level of pay and status. (Alludes to the lowness of the bottom rung of a ladder.) Most people start work at the bottom of the ladder. After Ann got fired, she had to start all over again on the bottom rung.
See also: bottom, ladder, of