Feature

Child labor: Should kids be allowed to work?

In a recent speech, Newt Gingrich suggested that poor kids in particular would benefit from taking on jobs now reserved for adults.

Are child-labor laws “truly stupid”? asked Maggie Haberman in Politico​.com. That’s what GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich suggested in a speech last week, arguing that it would benefit poor kids in particular if they could take on jobs now reserved for adults—such as “flipping burgers” or serving as janitors in their own schools. “They would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising,” said Gingrich. It may sound crazy, said Michael McGough in LATimes.com, but the idea that kids caught in “the culture of poverty” need some help in acquiring a work ethic “is not so silly.”

It’s not only silly, it’s “dumb,” said Amy Davidson in NewYorker.com. There are many practical and ethical reasons to keep the workforce free of minors: They can’t legally consent to a contract, are easily exploited by adults, and, while scrubbing out school toilets, stand to lose priceless hours of learning and social development. If schools begin to employ 9-year-old janitors, how can we ask American corporations or our trading partners “not to use child labor in cotton fields or chocolate plantations?” Gingrich’s child-labor idea sounds like a “bad Stephen Colbert joke,” said Jordan Weissmann in TheAtlantic.com. Janitors do hard, dangerous work, handling corrosive chemicals, running the school’s heating system, and using powerful landscaping equipment. The real issue here is that a man who wants to be our next president doesn’t have “a spit’s worth” of respect for manual labor.

Actually, it’s the liberal elites who have no respect for manual labor, said Kevin Williamson in National​Review.com. They insist that every kid should attend college, even though about 50 percent of students are hardly destined to become “Ezra Pound scholars,” and get no practical benefit from “four years at Mediocre U.” Getting a head start on a trade, and on the invaluable lessons one gains from doing any job well, on the other hand, would benefit them for life. I, for one, would have jumped at the chance to be a school janitor, said Walter Rubel in the Las Cruces, N.M., Sun-News. I lied about my age to get my first job as a dishwasher at 14, and it taught me about hard work and “showing up on time every day.” I don’t often say this, “but I agree with Newt on this one.”

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