How Gingrich evolved on child labor

Newt Gingrich caused a bit of a stir recently, denouncing child-labor laws as “truly stupid,” and calling for inner-city school districts to fire their janitors and instead pay kids to maintain their own schools.

As it turns out, this reminded Paul Glastris, the Monthly‘s editor in chief, of a 1993 fight over youth-jobs programs, pitting Gingrich against the Clinton White House. At the time, Gingrich was outraged, not by the prospect of kids working, but by the notion of young people working in the public sector — places like schools — instead of the private sector.

Here’s a Gingrich quote from the time, responding to Clinton’s plan to promote an inner-city youth jobs program:

“Now, if I had $19 billion, the President called and said, “I really want to stimulate the economy this spring. I really want kids to get real jobs doing real things,” you could easily create, for example, a tax credit for this summer that allowed small businesses to go out and hire 700,000 kids direct in a real private sector job doing real things, learning a real trade.

“What are you going to get? You’re going to get the New York bureaucracy and the New York Public Employees Union reaching out to create a make-work game for three or four or five thousand kids. I’d much rather have those kids going to a local grocery store or a local restaurant or a local dry cleaner or any kind of real job in the private sector doing real work and learning how to get ahead in the private sector. Because the work habits of small business are incredibly more demanding than the work habits of a public bureaucracy summer program. So, I’d just start with that premise. If what you want to do is employ 700,000 kids, you would get much more bang for your buck by having a tax credit targeted this summer to the city.”

As Paul noted, Gingrich’s objection related entirely to the competing sectors. Gingrich didn’t like the fact that “Clinton’s program would hire kids to work in the public rather than the private sector, the difference being that the latter represents ‘real work’ that is ‘incredibly more demanding than the work habits of a public bureaucracy.'”

And what does Gingrich want to do now? Put kids to work in a public bureaucracy, replacing “unionized” janitors.

As Paul asked, “Why, then, was Gingrich against government jobs programs for poor teens in 1993 but favors them in 2011? Could it be that he opposes them only when they’re offered up by Democrats, and supports them only when they involve firing unionized workers?”