In the midst of the Herman Cain sexual harassment fiasco and the anyone but Romney campaign, Newt Gingrich has risen to the top of the Republican primary. If you have read any of my last posts you know that to some degree this is good news to me because I am in the anyone but Herman Cain camp but I cannot say I like Newt Gingrich either. For one he is arrogant. Just watch him during the debates. He has this air of I am smarter and better than everyone standing next to me. That really annoys me. His arrogance and ignorance came roaring out recently when he attacked Child Labor Laws and the American Poor.
In a defense of earlier comments promoting the repeal of Child Labor laws, Newt made more troubling statements. Gingrich said and I quote “ Start with the following two facts: Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.” Now Gingrich did not provide any support for these “facts” probably because none exists! Although he did not explicitly say it Gingrich is likely speaking against the stereotypical welfare mom. Gingrich (along with President Clinton) was behind many of the sweeping changes to the welfare system in the 1990s. This stereotype is not by any means representative of all of America’s poor. There are those who are considered the working poor, hard workers who unfortunately do not make a living wage. In this economy there are many people who are unemployed and have fallen on hard times. There are so many good people who fall in this economic class so why attack them? More importantly why attack those who are the truly innocent victims, the children living in poverty.
Gingrich’s comments about work ethic also do not ring true or factual to me. I grew up in a middle class home. I saw my parents go to work everyday, food was in the fridge, I had a roof over my head, and I enjoyed many of my wants. It was not until I got out on my own that I really understood all that it took for my parents to provide these things for me. As a kid it all seemed effortless. I would imagine that this is not the experience for poorer Americans. They have first hand knowledge of the struggle their parents go through. When an eviction notice comes it is hard for the parents to create the effortless façade. These children live and see the struggle and may have developed an appreciation for their parents’ hard work long before I did. I would argue that they might understand the aspects of working hard more than Americans that fall in a higher economic class than themselves. Then when you consider that there are some American children who will be able to live off of the interest of a trust fund for their entire life, you have to question if they understand the value of the dollar or a hard days work. There are likely children in every economic class that have little work ethic.
His original statement suggested that our country do away with child labor laws and have poor children serve as janitors in their own schools. Can you just picture how that will work? While all of the more affluent kids are headed off to piano and karate lessons Timmy is stuck behind to help clean the toilets at his elementary school because his family is poor. Now imagine how that child will feel. Here is a child whose parents likely cannot afford to buy him the latest gadget or the trendiest clothes. Children pick up on these things and Newt Gingrich wants to add to that by having them work in the school. This also implies to this child that this is the type of work that you will be doing later in life so we might as well get you prepared now. Your other wealthy classmates are focusing on their education because they can be doctors or lawyers but you are destined to be a janitor. If we want to make changes in the lives of poor children, education is the key. Although he did not come right out in say it, Gingrich seemed to imply that working should be an alternative to school for children from lower incomes. A college degree can change that child’s live and the lives of their family as well.
The bottom line is Gingrich’s comments are just wrong. They misplace where the focus should be in the time of need. Let’s focus on getting the mom and dad of the poor American child a good job that can provide a living wage. Our country should also be coming up with plans to retool our education system so that all American children have a chance to receive a great education not just the children of the wealthy. More importantly let’s stop turning poor Americans into our nations’ punching bag.