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Gingrich Calls Child Labor Laws “Stupid”

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We have, haven’t we, been privy lately to a number of spontaneous outbursts from the Republican presidential candidates. A late example of off-the-cuff, so it would seem, impulse comes from Newt Gingrich, who may well be one of the few Republican contenders who can be taken as a serious potential president of the United States. If we are to believe what the former Speaker of the House says, Newt has strong feelings regarding child labor; he feels that impoverished youngsters would do well to work themselves out of poverty.

In a speech at Harvard last Friday, Gingrich called the current child labor laws “truly stupid”, and specifically suggested that American schools should get rid of unionized janitors, retaining one supervising janitor who would oversee the cleaning and trash removal effort by enterprising students, who would be paid to take care of their school. Gingrich feels that many successful individuals began work sometime between the ages of nine and fourteen.

In fact current child labor laws are not as limiting as one may think. The Child Labor Act prohibits minors from working in hazardous occupations, or under hazardous conditions. Additionally, minors 14 and 15 may not work during school hours or after 7 PM, if the next day is a school day. A minor is not allowed to work more than three hours on school days, and during the summer, the latest the young can work is generally 7:00 PM. From ages 16 to 17, the hours are extended somewhat, but work cannot be done on school days. Forms must be presented to the local officials, and remain enforced until the end of the school year.

Child labor in the U.S. has in some instances been found to be hazardous. A Human Rights Watch petition in 2009 mentions that hundreds of thousands of children were at that time employed as farmworkers in the United States, often working ten or more hours a day. These young farmworkers were exposed to pesticides, experienced high rates of injury, and had a rate of fatalities five times greater than other working youth. Dropout rates were and remain alarming; half never finish high school. In the early days of America, factory owners were permitted to hire children for a variety of tasks; in textile mills children were regularly hired together with their parents. The families in these towns needed the extra money for survival.

Speaker Gingrich says that such work would increase self esteem and devotion to the school, the center of learning. Their labors could also place some handy cash in the pockets of the stalwart young. Child labor laws, he says, entrap poor children in poverty. Newt criticizes those who tell poor children in poor neighborhoods they shouldn’t work, shouldn’t get a “hamburger flipping job.” Newt says that enterprising young folk should accept any job that requires them to show up on Monday, and any job that teaches them to stay on all day, in spite of their life crises, in spite of perhaps an ongoing fight with a girlfriend. Maybe Newt is on to something.

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About John Lake

John Lake had a long and successful career in legitimate and musical theater. He moved up into work behind the camera at top motion pictures. He has done a smattering of radio, and television John joined the Blogcritics field of writers owing to a passion for the liberal press, himself speaking out about the political front, and liberal issues. Now the retired Mr. Lake has entered the field of motion picture, television, and video game (now a daily gamer!) critique. His writing is always innovative and immensely readable!
  • Cannonshop

    It might be interesting to examine Gingrich’s context-because Child Labor laws in some areas have gone a bit toward the excessive, no longer protecting actual Children as demonstrating regulatory excess.

    REmember being a teenager, and getting a part-time job? I did it when I was fourteen, today, that employer would be facing fines and jail-time for HIRING me at that age. Admittedly, picking is hard work, and it doesn’t pay a lot, but that’s the point of a part-time summer job when you’re a freshman in high-school. Similarly, kids who get part-time work in their school years learn things like self-reliance, how to deal with people, get exercise, and build REAL self-respect, things that the self-esteem and ‘Wrap ’em in cotton’ culture doesn’t teach.

    It also broadens horizons that the Internet can’t reach. You’ll never learn to hang a door or fix a sink off the box on your desk, nor will facebook show you how to deal with sore muscles and skinned knuckles, and MySpace isn’t going to show you how to deal with obnoxious customers,irritating co-workers, or unethical bosses, and nagging mom and dad to buy your shit isn’t going to teach you how to handle money, or that it represents hours of your life.

    Why is there an Obesity problem in this country? Why is there an illegal immigration problem? maybe the two are linked? Maybe our Labor laws need a re-vamp, to make it less competitive to hire illegals, than it is to hang a flyer up at the High School for anyone who’s willing to get a little dirty picking spinach, or corn, or apples for X$ a box?

    Dunno. Not my department, but maybe the issue’s treated as too inclusive. I don’t think even Newt-the-Nasty wants eight year olds out in the fields, but what’s wrong with fourteen and fifteen year olds? Certainly it’s better than renting Felons from the County or hiring illegals under the table…

  • Nematoda

    Sorry, Cannonshop, most states allow 14-year olds to work on farms. Indeed, I wonder if you read the article: the writer makes a point of emphasizing that child labor laws aren’t as restrictive as many people assume.

  • Cannonshop

    #2 On the Federal level, no, but in many (not all) states, they are…or worse yet, they have the reputation of BEING, even when they aren’t.

    Personally, I’m kind of wondering why “Human Rights Watch” is worrying about hazards in AMerican agriculture, to the point of publishing frequent reports-have human rights suddenly improved in Africa, East Asia, and Central America to the point where it’s worth the ink and study time to worry about Kansas, Nebraska, and Illinois? I’m given to the understanding that non-profits like HRW have limited budgets…

  • It hurts me, deep inside, to agree with Gingrich on this issue, but I do. I don’t see any particular harm,it could definitely help some lower income families, and give some children a self-esteem boost (and some cash).

  • Certainly it’s better than renting Felons from the County or hiring illegals under the table…

    Not if those two groups do a better job.

    Thing with hiring 14 and 15 year olds is that they’re teenagers, and tend to spend a considerable portion of their time daydreaming about how interesting it is that the opposite sex has suddenly grown all these wobbly bits.

    It’s hard enough to get anything worthwhile out of them in school, never mind in the workplace.

  • Doc,

    Mightn’t being fired because of this

    Thing with hiring 14 and 15 year olds is that they’re teenagers, and tend to spend a considerable portion of their time daydreaming about how interesting it is that the opposite sex has suddenly grown all these wobbly bits.

    help a bit with this?

    it’s hard enough to get anything worthwhile out of them in school, never mind in the workplace.

    It is probably easier and more effective to fire, from a paying job he had sought, a kid who doesn’t want to work than it is to expel or even suspend from school a kid who doesn’t want to learn.

  • Possibly, Dan, but that wasn’t Cannon’s justification.

  • Not to defend excessive regulation which in itself is no lesser evil than the forces which make it seem necessary, is Newt’s a plan for a brave new world?

    I suppose we’re quickly approaching a standard of living comparable to that of a Third World, so Newt is providing the necessary push and shove to make certain we get there quicker, and all in the name of building character and developing work ethic.

    Which might be fine if the unemployment figures weren’t staggering and jobs aplenty. Twenty years ago it might be a believable, if not workable proposition.

    Which only goes to show the extent to which Washington is out of touch with Main Street. Either that, or it’s but an example of pandering to the base by suggesting an alternative to the administration’s jobs initiative.

    It’s long past the time when politicians from either side of the aisle should be taken seriously.

  • Actually, Newt’s proposal isn’t as unique as it might appear. If memory serves, our own Dave Nalle was arguing on behalf of re-instating workhouses, on the Dickensian model, as a viable solution to the problems of homelessness and abject poverty.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Cannonshop –

    The child labor laws and once-liberal immigration laws have squat to do with our obesity problem.

    What have everything to do with it is the fact that – unlike forty years ago – we expect to have meat in every meal. Not only that, but our food is cheap and we’ve a greater variety of it than at any time in human history.

    On top of all that is the combination of our rush-rush-rush culture that makes it not only far easier but also in many ways cheaper (since time is money even to a parent) to buy fast food on the way home or to order out for a pizza or Chinese food.

    And on top of all that, there’s another big reason for the Child Labor Laws that you’re missing: teenagers want money and they think school sucks. Give them the option of (1) staying in school and not having as much money as they’d like to have, and (2) quitting school and going to get a job…

    …many would choose the latter. I already know your arguments, that our schools do suck and that learning to work is often a better thing than school…but the solution isn’t to get rid of Child Labor Laws that enable such a situation (and enable grand-scale abuse of kids).

    The solution is to fix our schools AND our economy…and to have the political intestinal fortitude to spend taxpayer dollars to do it.

  • I can’t believe anyone takes anything Gingrich says seriously. After one of his previous outrageous and totally insincere eruptions [“If anyone should be in jail for the financial crisis, it’s Chris Dodd and Barney Frank”], NBC’s Chuck Todd said, “What will he do for an encore now? Set his hair on fire?”

    In the wise words of Bugs Bunny, “What a maroon!”


    Gingrich’s statements on child labor laws were meant soley for the purpose of getting everyone to talk about something besides the $1.6 million he was paid as an “historian” for Freddie Mac…

  • Protecting children from abuse and exploitation, and allowing them to earn some pocket money are two different things altogether. I used to work in a butcher shop after school during my secondary school years in NZ, and actually commenced an apprenticeship as a butcher when I left school. the fact this didn’t last long is another story in another time. America doesn’t stand too tall among the enlightened international community in regards to human rights. You may have a federal law, but this can be disregarded in the states.

  • John Lake

    America went wrong during GWB (maybe earlier; there were gruesome stories out of Vietnam) with Guantanamo Bay, the remote detention centers, waterboarding, sleep-deprivation, and worst things we see photos of, but don’t talk about.
    Bloody Bachmann doesn’t help the cause.

  • OneAmerican,

    Yeah the poor teens will fucking glow with self-esteem acting as the janitors for the rich kids.

  • (Hey let’s presume some shit about kids and then make them grow up based on our flawed rationalizations. Who cares, they don’t have any power, they’re just kids.)

  • Have any of you asked any kids what they think? Or do you fucking white guys get to decide what’s good for everybody?

  • Also: Newt needs to crawl back under his rock. He’s a scumbag and shouldn’t ever represent human beings.

  • Bachmann is a psychopath.

  • Jordan Richardson

    How much more shit do you want to heap on your nation’s children? School workloads are already higher than they were when most of you were kids. There are more stressors and there is more abuse.

    And when most kids can’t see a future worth living for, can you blame them when they turn to drugs, booze or “delinquent” behaviour? Is adding a “job” on top of that really helpful to “self-esteem?” I doubt it.

  • shantel

    there is not much child labour now wich is good but why would such a thing be bought up anyway. i think that becuase that there was child labour back in the day with teenagers ( aged 14) that could be why teenagers go out and get jobs becuase they think it is a part in life and they have no choice or they are presured into it ( thats only some teenagers these days though)

  • zingzing

    hey now, i had a job when i was 15. summers and christmas breaks, i’d work my ass off. it was great. i could afford bud. weiser and kind.

  • Jordan Richardson

    I had a paper route for some time and then worked a job at a knife and saw factory when I was 15-17.

    Life was easy “back in the day,” I “turned out okay,” yadda yadda yadda.

    But I also had what appeared to be a good future. There weren’t a lot of additional stressors and I was lucky to have a good family and circle of friends for support.

    Suggesting that getting a job is good for self-esteem is all well and good in ideal circumstances, but most kids aren’t so fortunate – especially these days. The “toughen ’em up, learn ’em respect, walk through 400 miles of snow every day backwards in your underwear” shit makes for a good meme, but in practice it usually doesn’t work out well for kids.

    Maybe we should let kids be kids while they still can.

  • pablo

    Newt is a fascist scumbag, nuff said.


    @ Cindy;
    Hey, I’m a “fucking white guy.” But I was told by the brothas in the Navy I had “soul”…

  • The “toughen ’em up, learn ’em respect, walk through 400 miles of snow every day backwards in your underwear” shit makes for a good meme, but in practice it usually doesn’t work out well for kids.

    The late Tony Capstick spoke to that…

  • R.Kimble

    Cindy is either not a parent or a poor one if she let her children decide what was best for them. Chocolate cake for every meal. Skipping school for cartoons and video games. Typical irresponsible lib

  • I didn’t realise that liberals had exclusive rights on poor parenting.

  • cindy

    That’s one way dominated children might act R Kimble. What do you expect to see you train them to be that way. Children who are respected and learn to make their own choices and who are taken seriously develop differently.

  • In other words: Children under a capitalist liberalism are not the only incantation of children that exists in the world.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Sometimes I wish this site had “Like” buttons in the comment section.

  • Clavos

    MOST of the time I wish we had “dislike” buttons…

  • Jordan Richardson

    Really? And here I took you for a positive person…

  • The crux of it is that, no one wants their child placed in a job they are intellectually or physically incapable of doing. 15 year old kids trying to mix “mud” on an oil platform is ridiculous.

    What Gingrich said was that all child labor laws are stupid. What he meant. ? I don’t know. I can agree that children need to learn responsibility and that life isn’t going to hand them everything but calling the laws or sub sections that keep them from ferrying nuclear fuel between chambers in a reactor facility are not stupid.

    if their were NO child labor restrictions then somewhere sooner or later children will be doing jobs in excess of what their not quite developed sense of logic and reasoning can handle. It won’t be their fault when people die. (them or others)

    The problem with kids getting jobs is that no one WANTS children working for them, I do remember getting that first job when I was 15 and it took months just to find someone outside of the supermarket (which had enough baggers and wasn’t hiring) that would hire a kid.

    When he realized he had misunderstood what I said and that I was 15 and not 16 the owner arranged for me to no longer be needed. I had that job for about a week.

    The era of the paper boy is over, 15 year olds have no business crowding around 450 degree deep fryers or crawling around in basements with pesticide canisters.

    If there are states with stricter laws than the federal laws that’s the residents of those states business.

    The federal laws are adequate to keep kids out of dangerous jobs. what needs to be done is convince those who have teen performable jobs to open their doors to this group and start hiring them.

  • Michelle

    From a kid’s point of view: I’m 13 years old and I really want a job. The neighborhood I live in now isn’t the kind of place where it’s safe or even reasonable to babysit or wash people’s cars for them. I’m so sick of people assuming that things like that are always an option for people my age. If I had a job, everyone in my family would benefit greatly. If I could apply at an animal shelter or a hospital, even as an errand girl or something, it would be great. I’d work at any place, to be honest–the mall, the library, a fast food joint, ANYWHERE. That child labor laws are preventing the people who NEED and WANT a job from getting one is just ridiculous. Child labor laws should take effect when a kid is endangered in the workplace or when they’re forced to work. But I really and truly WANT to work. I’m prepared for the responsibility that comes with it. WHY WON’T ILLINOIS EASE UP ON THE FUCKING LABOR LAWS?