Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich thinks poor kids are lazy and child labor laws are dumb. This controversial opinion is, of course, bereft of facts, but that’s Newt Gingrich’s schtick–provocation through outlandish remarks. His claim here is based in part on the premise that these children lack adult role models to teach them what it means to work.
Statistically this could be debunked using Census Bureau data showing that 3 out of 4 working adults (18 34) considered to be poor have one or more jobs and another 25% work part-time. The data also indicates that 50% of children living in extremely poor homes have at least one working parent in the household. The numbers, I suppose, could be debated all day, yet Gingrich raises an interesting question about our children’s work ethic.
At age 12 I started working in one of the feed mills my father owned, and by my early teens this became a full-time summer job. It was hard physical labor, and my dad, to his credit, didn’t cut me any slack as the “boss’s kid” either. I may have resented my father being tough on me, but in hindsight, it was one of the best lessons he ever taught me. Without that, who knows where I’d be.
In response to Gingrich’s statements, Geraldo Rivera (yes, that Geraldo) echoes this same sentiment about fathers teaching their children to work.
“At the age of 12, I started delivering newspapers because I wanted stuff my parents could not afford. I went to work, just like they went to work. But if, like thirty million poor kids today, I had no father around to cheer me on, encouraging me by word and example to do better than he did, I still might have delivered newspapers (or mopped floors). But when the time came, would I have stayed around to raise my own children?”
Rivera’s mention of 30 million poor children without fathers is troubling. The negative impacts on children who don’t have a dad in their lives are staggering. 63% of kids who commit suicide are fatherless. 85% have behavioral problems. 71% are high school drop-outs. The list goes on.
My father, hands down, is the hardest working man I know, second maybe to only his father who worked two jobs to support six children. There were days when I remember my dad, who was the company president, coming out his air conditioned office to unload a semi-load of rock salt alongside the rest of us warehouse grunts, and then change shirts to meet with some sales rep after.
I thought about this during a Thanksgiving visit home when I took my three sons on a tour of the old feed mill. My sons, however, had a hard time envisioning me slinging around 100-pound feedbags onto trucks and shoveling tons of shelled corn in hot, unventilated storage bins. This made me wonder about what kind of work ethic my sons and stepdaughters saw demonstrated in me. I may not be stacking bags of fertilizer anymore, but I try to set an example here, stressing the importance of strong work habits.
Last night, my stepdaughter was upset with me for making her redo a failed math assignment. She’s a straight-A student and her grade wasn’t from a lack of grasping the material, but rather, because she has a tendency to get lazy and rush through things. As we talked about this she told me it bothered her that the other kids (the failing ones) made fun of her for being smart.
“And besides,” she added, “Homework is hard.”
“Yes, it is,” I replied. “”But if you don’t learn to work hard at it, you’ll end up handing fries out a drive-through window when you’re 35, just like all those kids who are picking on you.”
The kids hate it, but I am particularly tough when it comes to school work, and there’s a reason for that.
The one message my father would reiterate to me after another grueling day at the mill was that he wanted me to understand what hard, physical work meant, and that without a good education I could expect to be doing that kind of low-paying, back-breaking work for the rest of my life. This wasn’t meant to be belittling; he just wanted me to have a better life and know that to obtain it, I need to work for it.
Gingrich’s statements may have been misguided and exceptionally stupid, but the underlying sentiment isn’t far off. Children do need to learn how to work, and fathers play a big part in this. Having this work ethic isn’t just for a job either; it’s for children to apply to their studies as well. The two go hand-in-hand. However, it is ironic that Gingrich further suggested that kids work as janitors. NYC school janitors have a starting salary of $80,000 a year and can make as much as $114,000. A NYC teacher, meanwhile, earns around $45,000. Go figure.
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