Newt Gingrich wants to put kids back to work.
Oh yes he did. Speaking at Harvard (to remind us that he's a historian, no doubt) on Friday, Newt Gingrich not only called child labor laws "truly stupid," he did so as his answer to a question about income inequality. His answer had several prongs. First, use student labor to bust unions in schools:
"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."
That's right. The answer to problem schools is to have kids do something other than learn in them, according to Gingrich. Even setting that aside, lots of kids refuse to eat their free school lunches because of the stigma attached to poverty. Now imagine the stigma of cleaning the bathrooms behind your classmates, or the food they spill in the lunchroom.
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 knew a lot of kids who delivered papers or babysat or mowed neighbors' lawns before they were the legal age to work; in fact, I did so myself. But there's a hell of a big difference between having a paper route and working in a fast food kitchen filled with hot fry grease and other opportunities to burn or cut yourself. There's a big difference between deciding which babysitting or yard work job you will accept and being scheduled to work a shift at McDonald's and the decision being between showing up or losing your job.
Gingrich cloaks his attack on child labor laws in the language of teaching kids to get ahead, but what it boils down to is funneling poor kids into dead-end jobs as early as possible; using them for cheap labor, ideally to bust unions; and turning schools into a place the kids who need money clean up behind those who don't instead of spending their time learning.