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ebenezer newt

November 21, 2011

Apparently, Newt Gingrich (who, for some inexplicable reason, is still seeking the Republican presidential nomination) thinks that poor kids should be put to work as things like school janitors because, well, you know, they’re poor and child labour laws are ‘stupid’ and stuff. Not to mention the fact that it’ll help get rid of unionized janitors, which is always a bonus for conservatives. (Just don’t let the kids unionize, because that’ll make them into little socialists!):

Gingrich: Laws preventing child labor are ‘truly stupid’

Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with young adults trying to make some extra money by working part-time if that’s what they really want to do, and I doubt that many people would. But saying that we should put poor kids 14 and under to work as school janitors simply because they’re poor (and because it’ll help boot unionized janitors out of a job in the process) is as fucking herpy derpy as it get, in my opinion.

For one thing, it’s not as if all you have to do is just throw out a couple of garbage bags at the end of the day; it’s pretty physically demanding work. Janitors (or custodians as they’re often called) routinely work 8 hours a day. For example, one listing that came up on my job search back in May lists hours as 2-10pm for high school and 3-11pm for grade school. The job itself entails “moderate to extensive degree of physical stamina and frequent lifting up to 50 pounds” and “frequent and prolonged standing, walking and bending.” Plus, the job also includes a great deal of repetitive motion and the use of some seriously heavy-duty cleaning products. I’ve been a janitor before, and it’s not something I really think kids 14 and under should probably be doing.

It should also be pointed out that 14+ year olds are already allowed to work limited non-school hours if they want. Child labour laws are essentially there to prevent kids under 14 from being put into the workforce, and limit the amount of hours a minor can work (so they have time to learn and play and do all the things kids should be doing instead of being janitors). What Gingrich wants is for poor kids 14 and under (which in most areas are statistically minorities) to be allowed and encouraged to work a physically demanding and dirty job, while at the same time taking those jobs away from actual, adult janitors (and specifically unionized janitors).

Basically, what I hear Newt saying is: “Instead of actually fixing (or better yet, supplanting) a system where so many people are left in poverty, let’s just go back to the early 1900s and get rid of child labour laws. Because poor people are just lazy; and if we get their kids working sooner, maybe they’ll develop a better work ethic and not be poor like their parents. In the meantime, we’ll let them take their parents’ jobs because we can pay them less. It’s a win-win!”

If the multiple reasons why this is a bad idea aren’t readily apparent, I’m not sure what else there is to say. The whole thing brings to mind an exchange between Ebenezer Scrooge and two unnamed gentlemen from Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol:

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned — they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides — excuse me — I don’t know that.”
“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.
“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

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