BY GEORGE E. CURRY
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich launched a nuclear attack on the needy last week by using ugly stereotypes to argue that people are poor because they are lazy and the solution to widespread poverty is scrapping child labor laws and putting poor kids to work in menial jobs.
He said in a speech in Council Bluffs, Iowa: “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.”
What planet does Gingrich live on?
My entire childhood was spent in poverty and I can’t remember a time that my mother and stepfather didn’t have a job. In fact, I can’t remember a time when Mama didn’t have at least two jobs. I’ve held jobs since I was in the sixth grade, jobs that included cutting the grass of my elementary school principal, delivering newspapers, washing dishes at the University of Alabama while I was a student at Druid High School in Tuscaloosa, and working as a waiter on trains during Christmas breaks while enrolled at Knoxville College in Tennessee.
Evidently, my experience was not atypical. An analysis of Census Bureau data by Andrew A. Beveridge, a professor at Queens College in New York, found that most children live in a home where at least one parent works. In fact, three of every four poor working-aged adults have jobs.
The problem isn’t that those living below the poverty line are unwilling to work. The problem is that their jobs don’t pay enough to lift them out of poverty, which is defined as $22,050 for a family of four.
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, “Nearly 15 million children in the United States – 21 percent of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – $22,050 a year for a family of four. Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using that standard, 42% of children live in low-income families.”
Gingrich falsely asserts that poor children don’t have a work ethic except when it comes to illegal activity. His solution is to repeal child labor laws and put poor kids to work as library assistants or assistant janitors.
Federal law already allows young people to work.
The Department of Labor notes, “The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets 14 as the minimum age for most non-agricultural work. However, at any age, youth