Newt Gingrich has a curious hobby. No, not his semiannual weddings but his habit of insulting poor people.
Recently, Gingrich suggested “that American school systems should fire their unionized janitors and let underprivileged children do the work instead, according to a report in Politico.” It’s worth noting that he made these comments to the countless underprivileged kids at Harvard University.
This was rejected as more of Gingrich’s typical, “are there no prisons?” nonsense — similar to his statements about orphanages back in the early ’90s. Dave Jamieson at The Huffington Post dismantled Gingrich’s argument:
Despite its relatively modest pay, a janitor’s job isn’t as easy as Gingrich seems to think it is. According to the Labor Department, a janitor needs to be able to carry out a long list of duties and repairs during a typical day: Mop and polish floors, handle dangerous chemicals, even perform basic electrical and plumbing repairs. At schools, they also need to interact well with children and, at times, clean up their vomit.
A janitor’s job is also more dangerous than most American occupations — and hardly fit for children, according to the Labor Department’s description of the work. Janitors, it notes, “may suffer cuts, bruises, and burns from machines, handtools, and chemicals. They spend most of their time on their feet, sometimes lifting or pushing heavy furniture or equipment. Many tasks, such as dusting or sweeping, require constant bending, stooping, and stretching.”
“Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,” the former House speaker told an audience at the headquarters for Nationwide Insurance.
This is demonstrably false and insulting. Poor children see their parents working sometimes multiple jobs in order to survive. He seems to have the poor confused with the idle rich, such as (Pick Your) Kardashian and ex-con Paris Hilton.
He then seemed to imply that a young, poor individual’s only likely source of possible income would be from breaking the law.
“They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’–unless it’s illegal.”
Again, I think he’s confused the poor with his buddies at Freddie Mac. True, no one has been arrested yet for bringing down the U.S. economy and quite a few people in poor neighborhoods are arrested because they live in poor neighborhoods.
Gingrich added that most successful businesspeople he knows started work “early” and made some kind of money when they were kids, whether it was by babysitting or mowing lawns.
He’s describing in a general sense what we call “chores” — a valuable, character-building concept but not technically “work.” I mowed the lawn myself (the backyard until my father trusted me near the front yard when I was in high school) but that was for comic book money. I never had to work to put food on the table. And I never had politicians suggesting that my father should lose his job and — if that wasn’t enough of a punch in the gut — his teenage son should replace him for a fraction of the cost.
“What if you paid them part time in the afternoon to sit in the clerical office and greet people as they came in? What if you paid them to work as the assistant librarian? And I’d pay them as early as is reasonable and practical,” he said Thursday.
What Gingrich isn’t addressing is that working-class jobs — be they clerical or janitorial — used to be something for which an adult could earn a living wage. Gingrich and his ilk have pretty much eliminated that. And, yes, technology has also done its part. However, if you wish to invest in children and their future, the key is education. After-school programs such as the Drama Club, yearbook, or orchestra instill responsibility, teamwork, and improve self-esteem. Let’s actually focus on putting these poor kids’ parents back to work. This doesn’t mean that after-school jobs for kids is a bad idea. I learned a lot working in a supermarket in high school. I was able to even open my first checking account. However, Gingrich does a disservice to everyone by insisting these “moral” lessons are exclusive to the poor. A rich kid can benefit from sweeping the floors of his school, as well.
Gingrich may be many things not printable in a family publication but he’s not stupid. The contempt he’s shown for the poor with these comments and also his comments about the Occupy movement implies that he believes a majority of U.S. voters think this way. We need to prove him decisively wrong.