My first job was cleaning the group home I lived in. True story. I participated in the Summer Youth Employment Program part of the Job Training Partnership Act passed during Reagan’s first term. It was a War on Poverty federal program considered to be an economic stimulus and a way to keep teenagers off the streets. I was in foster care and had just barely turned 14; I went to a few seminars on job skills and was given a job “super cleaning” for minimum wage ($4.25). I pulled in about $75 a week…before taxes.
I learned two things at that job: one, horizontal blinds are a malevolent plague on society; and two, Republicans don’t care about people who work.
No, Republicans, in general, and disgraced former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, specifically, concern themselves with their fickle “job creators” not the staple of the American economy: job workers.
The overpaid, overfed, and over-hyped Gingrich said to an audience at a Nationwide Insurance luncheon earlier this month, “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works, so they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday.”
Gingrich is willfully ignorant of the fact you can work and still be “really poor” in this country. You can show up every Monday and do your job faithfully and STILL not make a living. If you work full-time at the federal minimum wage you’ll pull in $15,000 a year before taxes (and yes, they do take social security, state and federal taxes out of those paychecks). Add children to the equation and it’s worse than the working poor – it’s the working impoverished.
Now 49 million Americans live in poverty – with 2.6 million falling into the category last year. That’s 16 percent of Americans. There are more Americans living in poverty than there are Canadians on the planet.
Gingrich is trying to equate poverty with a moral shortcoming. It’s a warped offshoot of the prosperity gospel – riches are a sign of god’s love – poverty is a sign of his indifference.
But also in this richer-and-therefore-holier-than-thou diatribe of Gingrich’s is an attempt to bust unions. He suggested firing union janitors to hire children to clean their own schools. Yes, a janitor with a job that pays him enough to live on is, in Gingrich’s eyes, a problem. In the call for hiring children and ending child labor laws is the call to end working for a living.
All the anchors of a middle-class living (pensions, benefits, decent salaries) are being dubbed “luxuries” by Republicans, to be sacrificed so magical “job creators” can be cajoled into saving us all.
Because, really, the greatest threat to America is that janitors are paid too much. Please. Wealthy janitors are, to borrow Gingrich’s phrase, “an invented people.”
Gingrich has a dark vision for a Shining City Upon a Hill: where poor children work in place of union labor. It’s basically the 20th century played in reverse.
Working (even scrubbing toilets) should mean making a living. If someone who works is still eligible for food stamps and government assistance – it’s really the employer who is federally subsidized. These “job creators” are taking advantage of government programs so they won’t have to cut into their profit margins to pay living wages.
The best example of this is also the biggest private employer in the country: Walmart.
If Newt and his Republican same-thinks want to go after Welfare Queens and those who don’t value work – go after the Walmart heirs. According to economist Sylvia Allegretto in 2007 the six Walmart heirs own more than the bottom 30 percent of Americans. And that was four years ago when their wealth was estimated at $69.7 billion, now it’s thought to be around $93 billion.
Will Newt take them on? No, Gingrich is showing his courage as a K Street custodian by kicking the little guys. Because really, it’s not that poor children need jobs to make them better workers – it’s that jobs need to be better to adult workers.
Is this kind of bravery to take on the least powerful (and some imaginary) among us resonating with Republicans?
Well, he is the new front-runner.