Political Animal


November 21, 2011 12:30 PM Gingrich, GOP target child-labor laws

By Steve Benen

Support for child-labor laws was taken as a given for much of the 20th century. Not anymore.

Newt Gingrich proposed a plan Friday that would allow poor children to clean their schools for money, saying such a setup would both allow students to earn income and endow them with a strong work ethic.

Speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the former House Speaker said his system would be an improvement on current child labor laws, which he called “truly stupid.”

As Gingrich sees it, children who go to school but don’t take on part-time jobs get “entrapped” by poverty. The disgraced former House Speaker would prefer that school districts fire “unionized janitors,” and instead pay kids to maintain their own schools.

In Gingrich’s model, children would start earning outside income as early as age 9. He wasn’t kidding.

Let’s also not forget the larger context. In Maine, for example, Gov. Paul LePage (R) launched an effort to roll back the state’s child-labor laws, and a similar measure was introduced in Missouri earlier this year. As we talked about in January, a sitting U.S. Senator, Utah’s Mike Lee (R), has argued that federal child-labor laws violate the Constitution and shouldn’t even exist.

Remember when there were accepted political norms that helped define the American mainstream? Basic policy tenets that both major parties accepted, largely without question?

I don’t know when or if those days are coming back.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • c u n d gulag on November 21, 2011 12:35 PM:

    And who said the Republican Party was no longer 'the party of ideas?"

    They have plenty of ideas.
    Just bad ones.
    All of them.
    Ideas people fought for over a century to fix.

    Today's Republicans are lower than Marianas Trench worm shit.

  • Quaker in a Basement on November 21, 2011 12:37 PM:

    Combine a rollback on child labor laws with an elimination of minimum wage, and you're right at the front door of legalizing slavery.

  • kevo on November 21, 2011 12:39 PM:

    I would hope that as a self-described historian, Newt Gingrich would help us move away from the vulgar, but he has decided to move us nearer to the vulgar by proposing such throw-back measures with a straight face!

    Why do the American people continually allow people like Gingrich and the rest of his Republican cohorts to insult and injure them? Gingrich is taking advantage of a people who don't pay enough attention to be informed voters, or half-decent, thoughtful citizens! -Kevo

  • TheGreenMiles on November 21, 2011 12:44 PM:

    What's most amazing about this is that Newt really thinks he's boldly taking the fight to liberals. Really? If there's anything President Obama's terrified of it's ... defending child labor laws?

  • Danp on November 21, 2011 12:48 PM:

    In Gingrichís model, children would start earning outside income as early as age 9.

    Why 9? Kids in Pakistan start sewing soccer balls a lot younger than that. What country is Newt using for a role model?

  • Sadie on November 21, 2011 12:51 PM:

    Speaking at Harvardís Kennedy School of Government

    Did he think he was goodwill hunting?

  • emjayay on November 21, 2011 12:55 PM:

    I don't know how widespread the practice is, but some PBS documentary a few years ago showed little kids in Japan (or was it China?) cleaning their classroom together.

    When I went to both public and parochial schools in the 50's in NE suburbia, somehow I was cleaning chalkboard erasers after school and it wasn't some kind of detention punishment. (The difference was in parochial school you clapped them out outside, and in the much better funded public school there was a vacuum cleaner!)

    Anyway, the idea of doing chores at home and at school clearly promotes a sense of ownership and participation and responsibility for kids. My one sister's kids were raised in a chore free environment, which is maybe more typical of the next generation, much to their detriment. (Along with choosing what to have for dinner on an individual basis, etc., a modern phenomenon that has been written about elsewhere.)

    But the idea of paid child labor that the poorer kids would do is of course appalling in multiple ways.

  • TCinLA on November 21, 2011 12:56 PM:

    Back in the 1980s, I was fortunate to know the director Billy Wilder, who came to the US as an anti-Nazi refugee after Hitler was elected in Germany. We talked many times about the rise of the Nazis, since he had witnessed it all, and one thing he said always stuck with me: that the Nazis were so outrageous, so shameless in what they did, that people had a hard time seeing them for the dangerous threat they were. He did, and was constantly pointing it out, to the point where people he knew began to call him a "crank" on the subject.

    We listen to a guy like Gingrich, and we can't believe he'd say that, but the thing is he did say it, and he would do and say anything to take power. That is why he is a fascist, and why he is as dangerous to the republic as a cancer cell is to any of us personally.

    He's not a clown. He's deadly serious and he is The Enemy. All of them are. They're not clowns.

  • bleh on November 21, 2011 12:59 PM:

    Remember when there were accepted political norms that helped define the American mainstream? Basic policy tenets that both major parties accepted, largely without question?

    Yes! The days of slaves as property, and women as second-class citizens, and children as having to earn their way just like everybody else.

    In Newt's universe, the kid should have been GLAD to get caught in the shower with Sandusky -- it was a chance to "get close to the boss." Chances like that don't come along very often in business, you know! If you don't take advantage of it, don't expect opportunity to come knocking again!

  • Ron Byers on November 21, 2011 12:59 PM:

    Who is the constituency for this screwball idea? Seriously, beyond the Koch brothers who is in favor of repealinig the child labor laws?

  • momo on November 21, 2011 1:05 PM:

    also i would like to point out that in the west coast states, there have been child labor law violation on illegal immigrants. this year alone, as young as 9 years old kids were found picking grapes in washington for example.

    Republicans don't want to give immigrants any documentation not because they take American workers' job opportunities.

    But the truth is that without a legal status, businesses don't have to pay them minimum wage, vocations, safety protection and yes follow labor laws like child labor ban.

    Uneducated but healthy immigrants are willing to much needed, labor intensive jobs for our ever- aging society lacking young people.
    America desperately need young people and children both educated and uneducated because baby boomers didn't make more than 3 kids on average and X and Y generations aren't making more than 2 kids on average to pay for social security and medicare in 2050.

    ok, not directly related, but i need to bring immigration reform back to table, too.

  • K in VA on November 21, 2011 1:06 PM:

    What's the threshold?

    What's the financial point at which the GOP ceases to hate you and wants to help you?

  • royalblue_tom on November 21, 2011 1:08 PM:

    So, do kids now count as unemployed ... ?

  • martin on November 21, 2011 1:09 PM:

    Just in time for a Dickensian Christmas.

    God's F**ked us, everyone.

  • dp on November 21, 2011 1:11 PM:

    this is a lot like the torture debate, where the shock doesn't follow from the expressed value itself but rather from the fact that the debate is occurring at all. all i can say is 'wow'.

  • FriscoSF on November 21, 2011 1:12 PM:

    Nude gingrich WON'T get the republican nomination
    (Honor among thieves?)

    Btu, if he did, this would make a WONDERFUL TV Ad
    Having 9 year olds mopping floors and cleaning toiltes
    With Nude's smiling face in the background along with his words on the subject

    It almost sounds like Monty Python !!
    (and the lovable Mr. Hilter)

  • Massa on November 21, 2011 1:13 PM:

    Gingrich is certainly right, but doesn't flesh out his proposal very well. As he so astutely observes, this country faces not a lack of jobs, but a lack of slaves. Why not conditional all federal benefits to the poor--welfare, social security, medicaid, medicare, food stamps, etc.--on forced labor @ one hour/dollar of benefit? That would quickly reduce the cost of providing those benefits, as well as increasing the labor supply at a time when it is so sorely needed.

  • Rabbler on November 21, 2011 1:16 PM:

    And yet moderates and bipartisans think we have something to discuss with these people.

  • mayumi on November 21, 2011 1:17 PM:


    "I don't know how widespread the practice is, but some PBS documentary a few years ago showed little kids in Japan (or was it China?) cleaning their classroom together."

    China has child labor law of some sort but not enforce enough in rural areas. (though America and every developed country also have child labor violation incidents, too)

    Anyway, specifically about classroom clean-up in Japan. :)
    school children clean their classrooms in Japanese schools as part of education.
    they are not real industrial level of cleaning and they don't get paid or anything.
    they really just wipe windows, desks and chalkboards for 30 minutes after lunches before recess every day. it teaches kids not to litter.

    It's the same kind of volunteerism that American school children learn doing gardening, fund raising and etc in their schools and communities to me.

  • Anonymous on November 21, 2011 1:19 PM:

    Come on people, let's not over react! After all this '9 year olds back to work plan' fits right in with ALL of the rethug right's policies implementing its war on American working people. You see after the coal miners get to have black lung and other diseases, and get to die early in large numbers from mine accidents, supplying dirty coal to the cities heavy with polluted air-all thanks to the rethug 'derugulation program'- the nine year olds will be on hand to shovel that coal into those old boilers that were never replaced because it is just 'too expensive'. What part of 'return to the 19th century' don't you understand?!

  • schtick on November 21, 2011 1:22 PM:

    I can remember, vaguely, way back when kids would get "working papers" to work for two weeks at the highway departments patching roads, fixing the shoulders of the roads and on farms during haying season. People got up in arms saying they were taking jobs from family men and they stopped hiring kids for those jobs.
    I doubt Newt will get far hiring children to take away jobs from family men with few if any jobs to be had by anyone. BUT! Let's not stop slave labor with children working for pennies. Such a novel idea and one I would expect from the tealiban. Next up for Newt, Debtor's prisons.

  • Mustang Bobby on November 21, 2011 1:23 PM:

    In Walter Lord's excellent narrative of America from 1900 to 1914, The Good Years, the chapter on the campaign to enact child-labor laws begins with a little poem:

    The golf links lie so near the mill
    That almost every day
    The children can look up from work
    And see the men at play.

  • exlibra on November 21, 2011 1:26 PM:

    Quaker in a Basement on November 21, 2011 12:37 PM:

    Combine a rollback on child labor laws with an elimination of minimum wage, [...]

    They don't like 8hr days/40hr weeks either. Martin, @1:09 PM, is right about it hearkening to Dickensian England. It's about that time that the first child labour laws -- limiting a child's work day to 12hrs and mandating some rudimentary schooling -- came into place to much outrage from factory owners and mine owners (also miners themselves).

  • DisgustedWithItAll on November 21, 2011 1:32 PM:

    "Remember when there were accepted political norms that helped define the American mainstream? Basic policy tenets that both major parties accepted, largely without question?
    I don’t know when or if those days are coming back."

    What I'm in complete astonishment and awe about is the fact these misanthropes aren't embarrassed to propose this stuff. What's next? Support for child molestation? And the reason they're not inhibited concerning this stuff is they're convinced people will consider it and conclude it's reasonable.

    Simply what has this country come to? There's just no words.

  • g on November 21, 2011 1:35 PM:

    Actually, if they were planning to do it, they'd be much more subtle. they'd modify existing laws, on the basis of loosening restrictions on allowing kids to work on family farms, or how many hours on school nights, or what machines they can operate. I'm sure they're already up to these kinds of shenanigans, but these are the things the public would overlook.

    Gingrich probably outed them with his blatant call for it, trying to call attention to his "extraordinary" and "radical" intellect. which is another example of how his towering ego compells him to act destructively.

  • The O on November 21, 2011 1:58 PM:

    Isn't this an extension of Bachmann's "Children Need Jobs" remark. They do need jobs! Low paying, non-union jobs.

  • AMS on November 21, 2011 2:00 PM:

    As we stand at the threshhold of the "festive season", the analogies to Dickens and, in particular, Scrooge, are well-nigh irresistible. From "I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry" (by extending UE benefits, perhaps?) to "are there no prisons? are there no workhouses?" the comparisons to current GOP thinking could not be more apt.

    So many of these Republican proposals are all of a piece---taken together, they add up to a breathtaking empowerment of business to operate without any meaningful constraints or standards in the areas of labor law, environmental regulation, etc. This is all done in the name of "freedom"---why shouldn't a 9-year-old be free to work? It's the American way!

    We are going to wonder at how far down the rabbit hole we've fallen when (I refuse to say "if") we awaken from the fever dream brought on by the 2008 recession.

  • jim filyaw on November 21, 2011 2:16 PM:

    i have my own opinion as to gingrich. i think he's a garden variety psychopath. i mean that in the literal, not a pejorative sense. gingrich simply doesn't comprehend things like right, wrong, moral, immoral. he knows their definition, but understands only in that they have some influence on lesser mortals to which he is immune. i'm sure he made all the classic protestations of love and fidelity to wife #1 being all the while amazed at the effect. when wives #2 and #3 came along, he feel no sense of adherence to the predecessors. same way with his newfound religious fervor. his tales of contrition and atonement are much the same as his blandishments to his women, pap for the saps. all the commentaries on psychopaths i have read note the exalted self image and narcissism. classic ginrich.

  • N.Wells on November 21, 2011 2:43 PM:

    Yeah, and if we use little kids we can make those really thin coal seams economic again. And in Pakistan, garages employ kids to get to those tiny hard-to-reach places behind the engine block - now there's a model to look up to.
    (/snark, just in case it isn't obvious.)

  • zeitgeist on November 21, 2011 2:49 PM:

    this fits nicely with the Florida Republican who wants to repeal the "dwarf tossing ban" because it limits job opportunities being props in bar contests.

  • Bigtuna on November 21, 2011 3:07 PM:

    jim fllyaw - good call. After Elliot Spitzer flamed out, I had a conversation with a psychiatrist, and he said some people in these power realms are drawn to it for the power, fame, ect. and often there are associated pathologies which are manifested by lack of understanding the impact of their actions, even on themselves. Charge hookers on your own credit card; fly to Brazil to bonk a babe; have a baby with a woman while your wife goes through cancer; ditch your wife while she recovers from cancer; bonk mistress # 3 while married to wife 2, whom you bonked while wife 1 is sick; send wierdo messages and texts; etc.

    Newt is so hopelessly out of touch and so full of himself - and there is plenty to fill up there ....

  • RT on November 21, 2011 3:09 PM:

    Newt Gingrich already has the name of a Dickensian villain. Now he's just fleshing out his character.

  • Jane on November 21, 2011 3:39 PM:

    Unconscionable! Gingrich has not thought this through on any level and this clearly is an example of the worst kind of leadership. Number one he has no idea what is involved in cleaning a school. Number two he has no idea what children would require in terms of supervision to keep them safe. Number three he ignores that fact that supervisors of underage workers would also need protection. I worked in an elementary school and I know that cleaning staff use harsh chemicals, do jobs that require adult physical strength, coordination, and skill. They need knowledge and self-discipline to get the job done in a timely, effective and safe manner. Children cannot do this job. Gingrich's idea is wrong and his leadership style is wrong for this country.

  • mmm on November 21, 2011 5:40 PM:

    I'm surprised that they haven't figured out that we'd make them into a Junior Union, indoctrinate them in collective bargaining, and promote them as the Future of America!

  • Derf on December 05, 2011 8:18 AM:

    Clearly the historian knows little history. Thank god Dickens through satire and novels such as Oliver Twist woke 19th century England up, and the country moved away from exploiting children. Does Newt know any of this?

    The newt with his poisonous tongue even used the term "master janitor" conjuring up the cruel and inhumane apprentice-ship programs of 19th century England. Newt should go back to the toilet and drown himself so the rest of us can move forward into the 21st century.

    The 1968 musical Oliver shows to the observant what can and does happen in orphanages and in a society with incredibly stupid child labor laws. No one needs the ideas of a washed up historian.