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Would Newt Gingrich’s idea about poor kids work?

Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has stated he would challenge laws that prevent children from working certain jobs.
REUTERS/Daron Dea
Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has stated he would challenge laws that prevent children from working certain jobs.

On the subject of poverty and helping people bootstrap their way up and out of it, Louis King is an expert. So who better to talk to regarding Newt Gingrich’s now viral remarks about poverty and putting young inner-city kids to work in the schools?  

Turns out the two men do agree — on the value of having a job.

“I think the best social service program in the world is a job,” says King, who regularly preaches the benefits of work in his position as president and CEO of Summit Academy OIC. The educational and vocational training center is focused on getting jobs for the jobless and under-employed, particularly those from economically disadvantaged north Minneapolis.

But King has a different approach than the Republican presidential candidate who stepped into hot water with recent suggestions that child labor laws are “truly stupid” and that kids should be put to work as assistant librarians and janitors in schools to learn work ethic.

In contrast, King says: Put their parents to work.

“The best example for kids is to see their parents working,” to have parents serve as role models, he says, for it’s true that if you’re a child and know 10 men and none are going to work, you’re going to have a skewed view of the responsibilities of adults.

Louis King
Louis King

Every American, he continues, should have the opportunity to go to work and support his or her own families. That means poor people, too, but in our political debate, he says, it’s like poor people don’t exist.

“The right have been very successful in making this a debate about the middle class and the rich. They overlook the people who would like to become taxpayers,” those who want jobs, King says.

“You can’t have it both ways,” he adds. “You can’t demand people take care of themselves and at the same time not afford equal lending, good education and access to jobs. That is the hypocrisy of both the left and the right.”

Government policies meant to ensure equality in hiring minorities and women have to be enforced, says King, 51, founder of H.I.R.E. Minnesota, a program started to ensure hiring fairness. You may remember him, too, from the jobs summit in north Minneapolis last March.

Sure, “Newt is on to something, but it’s Newt Gingrich,” says King. He gives Gingrich credit for bringing jobs and poor people into the national political debate. But King says voters should take Gingrich in context by looking at his record and his attitudes toward poor people and how he politicizes issues rather than frames them in thoughtful ways.

In a speech in Iowa last month, for instance, Gingrich took on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or food stamps, as it used to be called. The former U.S. House speaker, whom one would assume would know better, said that “people take their food stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii” on vacations. He also said “they give food stamps now to millionaires.”

PolitiFact.com, the fact-checkers at the Tamp Bay Times, looked into Gingrich’s charges and found them false, giving him the “Pants on Fire” rating of its truth meter for being so wrong.

Putting Gingrich’s views aside for the moment, King argues that social services programs instituted under President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society are not working. “Instead, you have to accept the fact that the best social service program in the world is a job,” says King, who reports that 48,000 of the 60,000 people living in North Minneapolis receive some kind of county support.

King says that Minnesota has among the widest employment disparities between whites and blacks, with 6.9 percent of whites unemployed and 21 percent of the African-Americans jobless.

Training and finding jobs for the poor is what the Summit program is about, says King, who also praised STEP-UP Summer Jobs Program instituted by the City of Minneapolis for youths.

According to King, 60 percent of Summit program’s students live in north Minneapolis and that about half of those who start training programs in health care or construction finish them. Students enter the school earning on average about $3,000 a year. For 2011, the school expects to have placed 201 people into jobs with an average wage of $30,000 a year. Last year it was 168 placements.

Jobs for adults, he repeats, not putting children to work, is the path away from poverty to prosperity. “If I can put one or two people to work feeding their families, that is better than feeding 300 people one time.”

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Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/09/2011 - 09:25 am.

    Why limit the idea of putting children to work to poor kids? Extend it to everyone, rich and poor. What’s wronig with making the students at Wayzata High mop out the bathrooms or sweep the floors? If there is dignity in all work, surely a little grubby labor wouldn’t hurt them.,

    In fact, it would do them good to learn how their world keeps functioning as smoothly as it does. We could go a long way towards bridging the cultural and social dicvide between the rich and the poor if students were put in a place to learn empathy.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/09/2011 - 09:32 am.

    I haven’t done any research on King’s background, so I’m willing to be corrected here, but I do not recall hearing him admonishing parents to take control of their kids.

    He is absolutely correct to assert the best social service program in the world is a job, but it is not incumbent on employers to hire people that are not qualified for the jobs they need filled. And making allowances for incompetence based upon skin color is racism, which I’m confident Mr. King is against.

    Minnesota spends more than 40% if it’s yearly budget, billions of dollars, on jobs training programs…they’re called K-12 schools.

    Every kid in the state has the constitutional right to attend our schools, but too many limit their attendence to the physical presence of their butts at desks.

    Where is the wisdom in creating a secondary training program to backfill one we are already lavishing a majority of our public treasure to operate?

    Now maybe Mr. King has been bringing this message to where it needs to be heard, but as I say, I haven’t heard anything about it. Until he is ready to take charge of the full scope of that responsibility I wouldn’t warrant his credibility to judge Newt Gingrich’s positions.

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 12/09/2011 - 09:54 am.

    The entire debate about jobs ignores a very important reality:

    At this point in the history of the US, we simply do NOT need everyone to work in order to accomplish everything that needs to be done.

    But rather than responding to the fact that we don’t NEED everyone to work, and reducing everyone’s working hours accordingly, while continuing their lifestyle based on their fulfilling the actual work needs of our society (the dream of futurists back in the 70’s as more and more technology began to come online),…

    a VERY dysfonic minority of our nation’s wealthiest citizens have restructured the economy so that the benefits of advancing technology allow themselves and ONLY themselves to benefit.

    They have made sure that advancing technology has not eased the burdens of the average person, but have used technology and the resulting surplus supply of labor to drive DOWN the wages and benefits available to those people who are still able to find work. Given their way, they would feel perfectly justified in reducing all of us below poverty to simple slavery.

    In pitting members of the middle class against each other, in insisting that unions must be wiped out so that these oligarchs can freely wipe out a decent standard of living for ALL workers (as they have so successfully done for the average NON-union worker),…

    in making “the poor” who, as things currently stand, include many excellent, formerly middle class workers, the enemy of society in general,…

    those few sad, sick, sorry, spiritually-bankrupt (but materially wealthy) individuals have successfully managed, since the days of Ronnie Raygun, to pit the rest of us against each other so that we have not noticed how they were robbing all of us blind.

    In the end, we do NOT need underaged poor kids to work menial jobs,…

    We need to force, and yes I mean FORCE those who have, without providing any benefit to society, stolen a huge portion of the proceeds of everyone else’s labor in order to try to meet their need to find value in their own high net worth,…

    But whose psychological dysfunctions make it impossible for them to ever have enough net worth to actually feel as if they’re anything more than worthless (even infinite net worth would not be sufficient),…

    and REDISTRIBUTE yes, I actually said REDISTRIBUTE their ill-gotten gains into the rest of society in order that more research and innovation that would, inevitably, result can be supported, and more jobs created,…

    but we also need to devise a way to value average people sufficiently that, when all the work that needs to be done each day is actually getting done, the average person is able to live a reasonably decent lifestyle with secure sources of safe, pleasant housing, food, clothing, transportation, and access to health care.

    After all is this not the very purpose of a civilized society?

    A society whose only purpose is to further enrich and empower the already wealthy and powerful is NOT a civilized society and can, if it continues down that path, only bring about is own downfall, as history has repeatedly shown.

  4. Submitted by Dale Hoogeveen on 12/09/2011 - 09:57 am.

    I have no problem with kids working under controlled conditions, when they start to get old enough to handle it. There used to be a pile of those jobs available, but they are gone now. Places where maturing children can learn how to work, how to be employees. That is the problem with Gingrich’s suggestions. He is proposing that they work at adult level jobs, replacing full adult employees at full adult level function. His ideas are not feasible.

    The only outcome that is certain if Gingrich’s ideas get applied is that abuse of child labor will return. We do not need that horror to reappear in our society. The kids need to be in school not carrying lunch buckets.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/09/2011 - 10:48 am.

    “He also said “they give food stamps now to millionaires … PolitiFact.com, the fact-checkers at the Tamp Bay Times, looked into Gingrich’s charges and found them false, giving him the “Pants on Fire” rating of its truth meter for being so wrong.”

    Well, except there’s this:
    “A Seattle welfare recipient and her husband had their home raided recently by federal officials after it was discovered that the unnamed female was receiving federal welfare checks and housing assistance … search warrant documents show the female receiving just over $1,200 per month in public housing vouchers, monthly cash and a disability paycheck from the government along with food stamps.

    http://www.inquisitr.com/165436/seattle-welfare-recipient-found-living-in-lakefront-home/

    Where’s the website where PolitiFact.com has their pants on fire?

  6. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 12/09/2011 - 11:00 am.

    When not enough people have jobs–especially well paying jobs–why is anyone talking about eliminating child labor laws?
    If we really want to teach responsibility and discipline to students–the young affluent kids, too often arrogant toward “lesser” students, and the poor–we can find better ways to do it than put ANYONE to work cleaning toilets. They are in school to learn, to get educated, and in no way does cleaning the school add to that. Instead, the U.S. could establish a mandatory program similar to the peace corps (this has been proposed before) that would require young people to for one year go out and help others in some way–staffing a food bank, painting the houses of people who cannot do it themselves or have it done, acting as teaching aides.
    I had to put myself through school, and though I did OK and graduated (twice) with honors, I don’t think people should have to do it. College is a time to learn and think and get together with others to exchange ideas and argue and discuss (and socialize, which is part of learning).

  7. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 12/09/2011 - 11:31 am.

    Greg’s comment reminds me of the Vonnegut story where the only jobs were in the army and fixing potholes. Everything else was made in a large factory with one guy running it. That did not work out well.

    Jobs are good. Jobs that pay enough to live on are the great jobs. Unfortunately we know that one $10 – $12 per hour full time job is not enough to sustain household needs. Two people working at this wage would put you on the edge of sustainability if one of those jobs provided benefits.

    We need to mandate that jobs for adults pay these living wages or need to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit so that people who work full time can afford housing, food, health care and transportation.

  8. Submitted by Derrick Schluck on 12/09/2011 - 11:39 am.

    Minnesota spends more than 40% if it’s yearly budget, billions of dollars, on jobs training programs…they’re called K-12 schools.

    That is exactly the problem, today’s public schools for the most part are still set up in the model of the 1950’s education system, the new economy and inter-connected world needs far better training in Math, Science, and critical thinking. Just passing High School doesn’t mean anything, most students who pass are not college ready, let alone ready to serve in the high skilled workforce required today and into the future. I argee with poster number 1 however, I think a little hard work for the kids could be appropriate, especially the rich and poor kids, they both have very squed realities when it comes to the world they live in, on both spectrums.

  9. Submitted by Derrick Schluck on 12/09/2011 - 11:41 am.

    @5 Dennis

    Really you want to get into that arguement over a few cases of abuse or oversight. Should we start listing all the millionairs and billionairs who don’t pay taxes and have off shore accounts to hide their wealth.

    I won’t even start on Corporations and how their abuses.

  10. Submitted by Thomas Eckhardt on 12/09/2011 - 11:59 am.

    Dennis #5

    Your example is not a case of the government giving food stamps to millionaires. Rather, it’s a case of wealthy people defrauding the government. Using your logic, we should blame banks for giving money away to bank robbers.

    http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Welfare-fraud-investigators-raid-1-2-mil-Lake-2341224.php

  11. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 12/09/2011 - 12:00 pm.

    “they give food stamps now to millionaires.”

    Gosh, you’d think he’d be for this. It will free up some of their millions so they can be effective job creators.

  12. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/09/2011 - 12:01 pm.

    “Instead, the U.S. could establish a mandatory program similar to the peace corps (this has been proposed before) that would require young people …”

    Good grief, why does everything you people propose have to be mandatory? Work study programs at private schools and in college have been around forever. And they’re not mandatory. They’re there if a kid and his family want to take advantage of it.

    Newt was talking about kids who come from poor homes where no one in that home gets up every day and goes to work. The kids has no experience in the concept of doing work in return for money. This would provide that experience. It doesn’t matter what the actual work is.

  13. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/09/2011 - 12:44 pm.

    Both Mr. King and Mr. Swift are correct – the best social service program is a job – and I even agree with Mr. Swift about hiring people who lack qualifications, as well as the “soft racism” of low expectations. That said, however, Mr. King would appear to have far better qualifications to judge what would get my fellow north-siders out of poverty than Mr. Gingrich, whose record of slippery dealings is, shall we say, less than admirable, and whose knowledge of poverty and how to escape it through low-wage manual labor is minimal, at best.

    Moreover, if putting kids to work is such a great idea, RB Holbrook has a shrewd and relevant point. If menial labor for low pay is so good for *poor* kids, it ought to be equally good for *rich* kids, as well.

    Meanwhile, Mr. Swift and I fundamentally disagree about the purpose of education. “Job training” is not the reason the Minnesota Constitution requires public schools. Every society – democratic, monarchial, dictatorial, whatever – is interested in self-preservation, and that requires teaching the next generation how the society was created, and what must be done to preserve its benefits. Creating citizens is what schools are for, and “job training” is, and ought to be, strictly a secondary concern. Given the rapidity with which jobs change nowadays, training for a specific job is, and ought to be, the employer’s task.

  14. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/09/2011 - 01:33 pm.

    “Your example is not a case of the government giving food stamps to millionaires. Rather, it’s a case of wealthy people defrauding the government.”

    Surely you don’t believe he meant the government was purposely giving food stamps to millionaires. Newt apparently assumed too much about the intelligence of the people hearing his words.

  15. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/09/2011 - 01:39 pm.

    “training for a specific job is, and ought to be, the employer’s task.”

    No kidding? Well Ray it’s a shame I didn’t run into you before I paid all that cash to learn Engineering; maybe it’s not too late though…

    …Tomorrow I’m going to march right into Medtronic and demand they put me into the CEO training program.

    Listen; the only OJT programs still in existance are at WalMart, McD’s & the White House. The first two can’t fill the positions fast enough and the latter takes any smooth talking nimrod with enough brains not to make a complete ass of himself until after he’s moved in.

    But even McDonalds expects it’s employees to be able to read English and do simple math; our K-12 training programs can’t even get that done under the present circumstances.

  16. Submitted by Thomas Eckhardt on 12/09/2011 - 02:46 pm.

    Dennis #15

    “Surely you don’t believe he meant the government was purposely giving food stamps to millionaires. Newt apparently assumed too much about the intelligence of the people hearing his words.”

    Well, here’s the quote from Newt “So more Americans today get food stamps than before. And we now give it away as cash — you don’t get food stamps… They give food stamps now to millionaires because, after all, don’t you want to be compassionate?”

    from http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/dec/01/newt-gingrich/Gingrich-says-use-food-stamps-Hawaii/

    Surely anyone who understand English can’t read that to refer to fraud. Better check your own reading comprehension, bud.

  17. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 12/09/2011 - 03:03 pm.

    Ray, I think you are exactly right. I have always thought education should first be to give young people some idea of their history and how they–and their country–got where they are. And why. It should as you say, be for the purpose of making people good public citizens.
    I have always felt that the work-study program was a mistake, taking students away from what should be their primary objective.
    I suspect, though, it’s too late to convince anyone of that. For profit private schools and charter schools are being heavily promoted by rich businesspeople, who have found one more way of making a buck, never mind what it does to the kids. Jeb Bush is deeply into this. So are some other politicians. Charter schools do not do better than the public ones; repeated surveys and analysis show this. Then we will have even more business-oriented schools plus giving business another nice way of making money.

  18. Submitted by Lora Jones on 12/09/2011 - 06:38 pm.

    Ah, well. As my mother always used to say, we all have our own retardations. Her word, not mine. Mr. Tester is a Newt supporter per other strings. I’m not sure what Mr. Swift is, although empirical evidence suggests he’s overly reliant on Faux News or NewsMaxx or some other far-right-source I am (thankfully) not familiar with.

    King’s right that jobs for the parents are the important thing; Kapphahn’s right that there are none; Schoh and Martin are right that public schools in a participatory democracty should be preparing our children to participate in that democracy and they aren’t doing that anymore.

    Newt’s mental masturbatory flirtation with replacing adults with lower-paid, lower-wage children is merely expressive of his world view. Unions bad. Low wage workers good. It frees up more money for us 1%s to spend at Tiffany’s.

  19. Submitted by Tom Lynch on 12/10/2011 - 12:33 am.

    The purpose of schools should not be job training or the teaching of specific facts or skills(although that can be part of it). It’s to make the students independent learners. So they can take the things they learn in a Reading class, Writing class, Math class, etc. and use it to be able to learn on their own in the future. And hopefully how to think critically, too.

  20. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/11/2011 - 01:36 pm.

    “As my mother always used to say, we all have our own retardations. Her word, not mine.”

    We all hope you two have reconciled, Lora. Parents sometimes say things they really don’t mean.

  21. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 12/11/2011 - 08:09 pm.

    Can we lock Mr. Gingrich in a room somewhere and have him slide policy ideas under the door on little slips of paper?

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