Another Wise Republican Suggests a Return to Child Labor

In Monday's Republican Presidential debate, Newt Gingrich doubled down on his fabulous idea that the best way to wean families off of government assistance is to let poor kids work as janitors. At a recent town hall meeting, a Republican Senator suggested that letting kids handle pesticides and operate farm equipment just might be the key to solving the country's obesity epidemic. What's with this mini-trend of Republican politicians publicly pushing for kids to get jobs?

ThinkProgress reports that the latest rationale for getting America's children threshing again comes from Iowa's Chuck Grassley. During a public event he held recently, a constituant lamented a proposed change to the Department of Labor's guidelines for children who work on farms. The new guidelines would make it illegal for kids under 16 to handle pesticides, work in timber removal, drive power equipment, or work on the harvesting of tobacco. Mr. Grassley noted that it's "interesting" that First Lady Michelle Obama's been traveling around the country promoting exercise and healthy eating, and yet her husband's administration is limiting the hardness of work that kids can do. That's some Alanis Morisette-level Ironic shit right there. Like rain on your wedding day.

Though no accounts contain this specific detail, it's safe to assume that the two men followed this exchange by thoughtfully polishing their monocles, satisfied they'd take what they'd learned back to the respective detassling operations and midwestern orphanages they lord over.

Grassley's not the only one to get his Dickensian top hat in an mashed accordion about limiting how much and to what extent kids are allowed to do dangerous work. Back in December when the rule changes were first proposed, more than 70 lawmakers who might become irritated if you referred to their home states as "flyover country" gathered together to contest the rule changes, insisting that hard labor teaches kids valuable life lessons as they work on their family farms. In a counter-letter written in support of the rule changes, a California Congresswoman pointed out that 400,000 kids who work as farm laborers are actually employed by people who are not their relatives.

But is blazing a trail to the 19th century and re-instituting child labor really the solution for America's problems like obesity and poverty? Republicans' suggestions all leave important questions unanswered.

First, let's say we finally come to our senses and make our freeloading kids get off their Cheeto-fed asses and earn their keep. Wouldn't an influx of tiny, sticker-covered resumes on the job market make things more difficult for everyone else? Depending on who you ask, there are 4 or 5 job seekers for every job opening, with little relief in sight. If kids are competing with adults for jobs, then how much more competitive is the job market about to become?

The only way that the labor market could possibly support all the children Newt Gingrich and Chuck Grassley wish to inject into it would be to remove the people who currently do low-skill, low-education jobs for very little pay from their current posts. Are hard laboring kids supposed to replace the Mexicans that we're going to kick out once everything goes back to how it was in the 1950's? A pol can dream.

GOP Senator: 'We Need Child Labor' to Fight Obesity Epidemic [ThinkProgress]