An Indecent Proposal
As a result of the 2010 census, a new congressional district has been created in the State of Utah. Vying for the GOP nomination is Mia Love, the first black mayor of a city in Utah. A wife and mother of three children, Mrs. Love is second generation Haitian-American. (But don't get excited about a conservative black Republican- she is a Mormon, not a Roman Catholic.) The biography on her website- spun, obviously, for the benefit of her candidacy- is testimony to the American dream. She was born in Brooklyn and her parents moved to Connecticut where she "recalls both parents working hard to earn a living, her father at times taking on second jobs cleaning toilets to pay for school for their three children."
That is inspiring but if it were up to Newt Gingrich, it never would have happened. At last night's GOP debate (transcript here), Fox News' Juan Williams asked the former House Speaker (video, from The Root, of exchange below)
Speaker Gingrich, you recently said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?
The question was inartfully worded, given that any politician views a question asking him if he is "insulting" or "hostile" or "racist" or a "loser" as opportunity for a layup. It gave Gingrich a chance to repeat his child labor proposal, contending
New York City pays their janitors an absurd amount of money because of the union. You could take one janitor and hire 30-some kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor, and those 30 kids would be a lot less likely to drop out. They would actually have money in their pocket. They’d learn to show up for work. They could do light janitorial duty. They could work in the cafeteria. They could work in the front office. They could work in the library. They’d be getting money, which is a good thing if you’re poor. Only the elites despise earning money.
The comment by the down-home Gingrich, who earned upwards of $30,000 an hour as an "historian," brought the house down, demonstrating that nothing so thrills an audience of elitists more than having a conservative Republican slam elitists. He inaccurately implies that janitors get paid a king's ransom, but truth never has been a high priority for Newt.
Adam Serwer at Mother Jones notes "Gingrich didn't actually address the question Williams asked, which was how he justifies implying that black people would rather sit at home living on food stamps than earn money for a living, and that those traits are so ingrained that it would justify Gingrich lecturing black people collectively (in the form of a speech to the NAACP) about the virtues of working for a living." Stop the presses! Newt Gingrich, who refers to the first black president as "the food stamp president," is racially prejudiced.
That is hardly news in today's GOP, which idolizes Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6), who raised appealing to racial fears to an art form. The proposal by Gingrich, which he had made previously, is the product of some really serious naivete. It takes someone truly out of touch with reality to believe that a young student assigned "light janitorial duty" in his or her school, would "show up for work" more than one day. After the ridicule the youngster would receive from fellow students, it would be an even bet that he'd even return to the school for another day.
And it's dangerous. Politifact looked at 2010 census data and observed
In 2010, according to census data, the median earnings for a full-time white male worker were $50,074. By comparison, in 1973, the median for that category, in 2010 dollars, was $50,513... white men were no better off, adjusted for inflation, in 2010 than they were 37 years ago, they were taking home about $8.44 less per week.
And when measured by the purchasing power of those dollars, the gap is even bigger. Because wages haven’t kept up with prices, as Axelrod asserted, the typical white male worker's purchasing power has eroded by almost 11.5 percent in 37 years.
Much of that decline can be is due to the decline of organized labor. So Newt Gingrich wants to take unionized jobs, including ones as a janitor- typically held by males- and let children do the work for pennies on the dollar. It takes an impressive opportunist to look at the labor market in the United States today and conclude that the problem is excessive wages coupled with an excessive number of jobs and an insufficient number of adults looking for work. Take the job from the father and give it to the child. If his proposals had been implemented in an earlier time, the ladder of mobility for a lot of working-class people, including the parents of Mrs. Mia Love, would have been turned into a stepstool.