Saturday, December 03, 2011

Building On Newt's Brainstorm

I've argued that Reverend Al Sharpton was a very poor selection to host the 6:00 p.m. (eastern) hour on MSNBC, given Sharpton's past eagerness to divide people by ethnicity and his lack of qualifications for this prime journalistic assignment.

But Sharpton served a public purpose yesterday by discussing with Lee Saunders, Secretary/Treasurer, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Newt Gingrich's most recent statement demonstrating the extraordinary grasp of issues with which much of the right and the mainstream media credit him. Displaying great depth and breadth, the former House Speaker commented in part

Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits for working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally 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’s illegal.

Gingrich, notably, did not limit his sloppy generalization to "some," "many," or even "most" poor children, but implied that slothfulness applied to the entire group. Emphasizing the "insult to poor children" and eschewing stereotypes, Sharpton noted "the poor are some of the hardest-working people in America."

But not only do many of the poor work hard; it's also that hard-working people are poor. Sharpton stated "4.3 million people earn the federal minimum wage or less. That's $7.25 an hour. That's a yearly salary of $15,000." Meanwhile Gingrich, casting his nose downward upon low-wage employees, recommended children be "paid part-time in the afternoon to sit at the clerical office and greet people when they came in (or) as the assistant librarian." AFSCME's Saunders remarked

For him to suggest -- and it`s an outrageous suggestion, and it`s even vicious -- for him to suggest that children can take the place of workers, of janitors in schools, it`s just completely off the charts. And he is living on a different planet. So what he`s suggesting is that we`re going to lay off the mothers and the fathers and employ the children, and we are a better country than that.

Poor children, Gingrich seems to believe, have no positive role models. But they do have some positive role models- men and women who go to work every day, sometimes to two jobs. And some of them are janitors. Newt would like to see those janitors thrown out of work, to be replaced by youngsters who will have seen neighbors and relatives work hard- and then removed from their jobs. Now, that's a great message.

A janitorial position, while low-paid, apparenly is no walk in the park. The Huffington Post's Dave Jamieson explains

Despite its relatively modest pay, a janitor's job isn't as easy as Gingrich seems to think it is. According to the Labor Department, a janitor needs to be able to carry out a long list of duties and repairs during a typical day: Mop and polish floors, handle dangerous chemicals, even perform basic electrical and plumbing repairs. At schools, they also need to interact well with children and, at times, clean up their vomit.

A janitor's job is also more dangerous than most American occupations -- and hardly fit for children, according to the Labor Department's description of the work. Janitors, it notes, "may suffer cuts, bruises, and burns from machines, handtools, and chemicals. They spend most of their time on their feet, sometimes lifting or pushing heavy furniture or equipment. Many tasks, such as dusting or sweeping, require constant bending, stooping, and stretching."

Gingrich's proposal need not be totally disregarded, but instead refined. Instead of giving the child a clerical or janitorial job, we'll give him (or her) a career, one combining an academic focus with a skill increasingly in demand. Little Jeremiah or little Ashley could be paid a small fee, perhaps $30,000 per month, to be historians with outfits in the secondary mortgage market. While these positions evidently require little sense and even less work, Jeremiah and Ashley can become the envy of their classmates and role models for all poor children, the drug pushers and prostitutes of Newt Gingrich's stereotype.

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