On November 18th, in an address to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Business, Newt Gingrich suggested that child labor laws effectively entrap poor children, who would be much better off if they were not prohibited from working at an early age by “stupid” child labor laws. Mr. Gingrich feels as though there was a time when people developed a strong work ethic at a young age, and that early development of this ethic was key to the success of many in this country. In the former Speaker’s opinion, that era is over, and we have child labor laws to thank for it. Implicit in his argument, however, is the notion that children would no longer be poor if they were simply permitted to work. This presupposes, firstly, that if given the ability, children would work, and secondly, that if children are not given the opportunity to work at a young age, they will not develop a work ethic. Overlooking these glaring misconceptions, Mr. Gingrich’s advocacy for that abolition of US child labor laws demonstrates that he is either oblivious to the inherent dangers with allowing children to join the workforce, or even worse, he doesn’t care.
Children have yet to reach stages of full physical and mental development. Both of these aspects are pertinent, as children are more prone to serious injury due to their lack of physical development, and are more susceptible to being taken advantage of in the workplace due to their lack of mental development. Children have a diminished sense of their rights are workers, or even acceptable workplace conditions. Child labor is of such concern that it is listed as one among only four core labor standards of the International Labor Organization. While Mr. Gingrich may envision a middle class child who wishes to spend a few extra hours a week at the local burger shop to save up for a new X-box, he should be imagining the low class child whose parents force him to spend thirty hours a week being exploited at a textile factory. After all, Newt, laws are meant to serve those who need their protection most.