The GOP presidential candidate wants nine-year-olds to work as janitors. It's not merely a crazy plan (although it's plenty crazy). It's also evidence of a deep disrespect for and ignorance of American work.
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Last Friday, during an event at Harvard, Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich offered up a modest plan for alleviating poverty in the United States. It was time, he said, to relax our "truly stupid" child labor laws. In particular, schools should fire their unionized janitors, and hire children as young as nine to do the work instead. Per The New York Times:
"You say to somebody, you shouldn't go to work before you're what, 14, 16 years of age, fine," Mr. Gingrich said. "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. 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."
This suggestion is, on its face, insane. It sounds like a bad Stephen Colbert joke. But if you stop and consider its merits for a minute or two...well no, it's still quite insane. And if you spend an evening researching the nitty gritty of what public school custodians actually do for a living, it turns out to be downright cruel.
It's not really worth engaging Gingrich's idea as a serious policy suggestion. I just don't see the buckets-and-books plan getting much traction in Congress. But his comments are worth dwelling on for a moment, because they're a jarring illustration of Gingrich's casual disdain for American workers.