Sunday, November 20, 2011

Newt Gingrich Disses Child Labor Laws // Advocates Firing School Janitors & Hiring Poor Students

Earlier this week, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich spoke out against child labor laws at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.  He argued that they entrap children into poverty.  In the process, he advocated for the mass firing of all school janitors and mass hiring of "poor kids" as student janitors:
"This is something that no liberal wants to deal with," Gingrich said. "Core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization against children in the poorest neighborhoods, crippling them by putting them in schools that fail has done more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy. It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid.

"You say to somebody, you shouldn't go to work before you're what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You're totally poor. You're in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I've tried for years to have a very simple model," he said. "Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they'd begin the process of rising."

He added, "You go out and talk to people, as I do, you go out and talk to people who are really successful in one generation. They all started their first job between nine and 14 years of age. They all were either selling newspapers, going door to door, they were doing something, they were washing cars."

"They all learned how to make money at a very early age," he said. "What do we say to poor kids in poor neighborhoods? Don't do it. Remember all that stuff about don't get a hamburger flipping job? The worst possible advice you could give to poor children. Get any job that teaches you to show up on Monday. Get any job that teaches you to stay all day even if you are in a fight with your girlfriend. The whole process of making work worthwhile is central."
I have three major problems with Gingrich's assertions:

1. What is preventing these "poor kids" from seeking out paper routes or from washing cars or other forms of employment.  Child labor laws do indeed place employment restrictions on minors that gradually lessen as they age. In most employment sectors (besides farming), children cannot be employed before the age of 12 and cannot work more than 3 hours daily on school days.  Here in Iowa City, many of the local grocery stores frequently hire younger students to bag groceries and to stock shelves.

2. How does firing school janitors and hiring student janitors enhance teaching at underperforming schools?

3. Why isn't Gingrich concerned about the adults who would be laid off by his proposed scheme?  My guess is that Gingrich isn't concerned much about teaching 10-year-old poor students how to become hard workers.  My hunch is that he wants to eliminate working wages for people in public sector jobs and replace those wages with bottom-barrel hourly wages for student trainees.  What about the adult janitors who have lost their jobs and can no longer financially support their families?

I think it is important to remember that nationwide child labor laws finally went into effect during the Great Depression because adults and children were competing for employment as rock-bottom wages.  Additionally, child labor laws also have a secondary effect: they keep kids in school and out of the labor market.  Limiting work hours for children protects jobs and wages for working families.  And limiting work hours of children also allows them the ability to actually study and excel in their classes.

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