November 22, 2011
Washington, DC--The National Consumers League (NCL) expressed dismay with comments made last week by presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who attacked the nation’s child labor laws as “truly stupid” and suggested that impoverished school children should be used to replace adult janitors in struggling schools.
“As a nation, we’ve spent 100 years trying to protect children by passing child labor laws. For a presidential candidate to make such a reckless comment is unfortunate,” said NCL’s executive director Sally Greenberg, who noted that “before the passage of child labor laws, children often worked 14-16 hour days in factories and mines and often suffered debilitating injuries in the workplace.”
Speaking at a Q & A session at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government on Nov. 18, Gingrich responded to a student's question about income inequality in the U.S. by arguing that the inequality is the result of "truly stupid" rules that he said has added to U.S. poverty rate and prevents children from developing a strong work ethic. “It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid,” said Gingrich.
"You say to somebody, you shouldn't go to work before you're what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You're totally poor. You're in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I've tried for years to have a very simple model," he said. "Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they'd begin the process of rising." In his remarks, Gingrich praised the examples of those who began work between the ages of nine and 14.
“With nearly 14 million unemployed adults in the nation, Mr. Gingrich’s solution is to fire adults and hire children to do work that no child should be asked to do,” said Reid Maki, NCL’s Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards and the coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition, a 28-member organization which NCL co-chairs with the American Federation of Teachers. “The fact that Mr. Gingrich went out of his way to suggest that children from poor neighborhoods should be compelled to do janitorial work is really troublesome. If schools are failing and the students are poor—as in the case put forward by Mr. Gingrich--it is all the more essential that these children focus on academics.”
NCL believes in the value of work for teenagers with proper limits and safeguards, but is keenly aware of research that shows teen work beyond 15-20 hours a week has diminishing returns for young workers, causing them to drop out at greater rates and increasing the likelihood that they will not attend college. NCL catalogues the hidden dangers of teen work in its annual report, “The Five Most Dangerous Jobs for Teen Workers” released each spring.
Several members of the Child Labor Coalition, including the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, Human Rights Watch, First Focus Campaign for Children, the American Federation of Teachers, and NCL have been working to remove exemptions to U.S. child labor law that allow children in agriculture to work 10- to 12-hour days in 100-degree heat, harvesting crops. “These children perform back-breaking labor in pesticide-treated fields and use dangerous equipment,” said Reid Maki. “They suffer a drop-out rate that condemns many migrant youth to a vicious cycle of generational poverty. Mr. Gingrich needs to help toughen our child labor laws, not gut them.”
About the National Consumers League
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.