Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has suggested that young children should be hired as school janitors. Image: Flickr / booleansplit / CC-BY-SA

Poverty in the United States is a complicated problem. Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, however, thinks that part of the solution is to rescind “truly stupid” child labor laws.

A labor view of poverty

In an event at Harvard University on Friday, Nov. 18, Newt Gingrich laid out how he believes poverty happens. As a part of the “radical changes to fundamentally transform the culture of poverty,” Gingrich outlined that he believed the poorest neighborhoods are “trapped in child laws” that prevent them from working their way out of poverty. The speech, generally, seemed to indicate that children living in poverty simply need to “build a work ethic.”

Children as janitors

In the specific plan outlined by Gingrich, children would work as janitors in schools:

“You say to somebody, you shouldn’t go to work before you’re what, 14, 16 years of age, fine,” Mr. Gingrich said. “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. 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.”

School custodians are often responsible for cleaning with harsh chemicals, cleaning up bio-hazardous materials such as vomit, fixing HVAC systems and doing electrical repairs.

The history of child labor laws

Currently, child labor laws in the United States prevent all children younger than 14 working in most non-agricultural jobs. Between the age of 14 and 16, working hours are limited. The Hazardous Occupations Order prevents children under the age of 18 working in occupations that are potentially dangerous to health and well-being. Each state is also allowed to create its own labor laws as they relate to children, and many states require work permits signed by the child’s legal guardian. There are jobs children under the age of 14 can legally work, but they are carefully limited to jobs such as baby-sitting and acting.


The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/11/newt-gingrich-thinks-school-children-should-work-as-janitors/248837/
Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/post/gingrich-calls-child-labor-laws-truly-stupid/2011/11/21/gIQAFYKHiN_blog.html
LA Times: http://lat.ms/v4UOXk
U.S. Department of Labor: http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/youthlabor/
Find US Law: http://finduslaw.com/occupational_safety_and_health_act_osha_29_u_s_code_chapter_15

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