Kids in poverty don’t understand work? The GOP primary front-runner needs to get a clue.
A word from Newt Gingrich, front-runner in the GOP 2012 primaries:
Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods, have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works, so they 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 is illegal.
Gingrich was responding to criticism he's taken for his stance on child-labor laws. Recently at a GOP hangout (to call it a "debate" would be to sully the term), Gingrich explained to America (or simply we masochists who watch GOP hangouts) that he would do away with child-labor laws.
First he'd get rid of that whole minimum-age-to-work crap. Then he'd fire all those icky union janitors at schools -- and put in place a "master" janitor and then have kids work for the janitor keeping their school clean. Forget all of that "being a kid" nonsense. That 9-year-old needs to get a broom, a mop and clean some floors! So the above quote was supposed to really explain the thoughts behind this "amazing" idea.
I have a question for Gingrich: How many poor children does he know?
Gingrich's sweeping commentary should be problematic for anyone with common sense. Since when are poor children so confused by the idea of working? The idea of trying to make money? The idea of "hustling"? Gingrich believes that poor children -- not the children of the wealthy, who have every need attended, whose parents can go to work when and if they please -- need to be shown how to work. The only method that poor children understand about getting money is through illegal means. Because poor kids are apparently raised by no one other than degenerates and thieves.
As a former poor kid (I've moved on up to a "Please don't let anything go wrong so that I might survive to next month" adult), I am amazed that someone could form their lips to say these words. When I was 5 or 6 years old, I stayed primarily in the Brevoort housing projects in Brooklyn, N.Y. This was not because my mother was on government assistance and needed subsidized living. My mother was working two jobs and couldn't possibly watch after her small son while working 90 hours a week, so she asked my 70-something great-aunt to watch me while she tried to provide a living for us. The first memory I have of money is the fact that my mom worked so hard to get it.
But Newt was right about one thing. I didn't understand "showing up on Monday."
That's because my mom worked anytime they told her to. My mother didn't have the luxury of showing up somewhere on Monday and simply staying eight hours. She went in when there was work. That could be a Tuesday or a Sunday.
And my mom wasn't alone.
I knew tons of kids whose parents busted their hind parts to make sure they were provided for. And as for us poor kids, I had friends with hustles early on. Trying to sell and trade baseball cards. Shoveling snow during storms. We knew the power of work and money.
This is what many poor children understand more than any other children. We understand that life is hard and we have to do anything necessary to survive. Poor children don't need to be introduced to work. They need to be introduced to opportunity and hope. Poor children need to have schools that aren't failing them.
As opposed to making them janitors, why not hire more teachers? Why not create better environments in school so that poor children can learn more, as opposed to being in overcrowded classrooms with teachers who can barely get books that are up-to-date?
Poor children are not doing illegal things because they don't know what work is. Those who do participate in illegal activities (and contrary to the implications that many conservatives make, when it comes to stealing, it's shown that rich people tend to do it more than the poor), a lot of times they understand exactly what work is. They've seen their parents work for years and barely keep their family off the street.
Forget prosperity -- they just want regularity. They want to regularly eat. Regularly pay rent. The poor who do turn to crime don't do so because of a lack of understanding of a full day's work. They do it because a full day's work for the poor often seems meaningless.
Funny. Asking the top 1 percent to pay their share is considered class warfare. Asking the bottom 30 to sacrifice their childhoods to clean floors seems like common sense to Newt Gingrich.