New York Times Op-Ed Columnist
Newt’s War on Poor Children
By CHARLES M. BLOW
Published: December 2, 2011
Newt Gingrich has reached a new low, and that is hard for him to do.
Nearly two weeks after claiming that child labor laws are “truly stupid” and implying that poor children should be put to work as janitors in their schools, he now claims that poor children don’t understand work unless they’re doing something illegal.
On Thursday, at a campaign stop in Iowa, the former House speaker said, “Start with the following two facts: 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. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.” (His second “fact” was that every first generational person he knew started work early.)
This statement isn’t only cruel and, broadly speaking, incorrect, it’s mind-numbingly tone-deaf at a time when poverty is rising in this country. He comes across as a callous Dickensian character in his attitude toward America’s most vulnerable — our poor children. This is the kind of statement that shines light on the soul of a man and shows how dark it is.
Gingrich wants to start with the facts? O.K.
First, as I’ve pointed out before, three out of four poor working-aged adults — ages 18 to 64 — work. Half of them have full-time jobs and a quarter work part time.
Furthermore, according to an analysis of census data by Andrew A. Beveridge, a sociologist at Queens College, most poor children live in a household where at least one parent is employed. And even among children who live in extreme poverty — defined here as a household with income less than 50 percent of the poverty level — a third have at least one working parent. And even among extremely poor children who live in extremely poor areas — those in which 30 percent or more of the population is poor — nearly a third live with at least one working parent.
For this analysis, the most granular national data available — census areas with 100,000 or more people — were compared. For reference, New York City has 55 of these areas. You’d have to slice the definition of neighborhoods rather thinly to find a few areas that support Gingrich’s position.
Lastly, Gingrich vastly overreaches by suggesting that a lack of money universally correlates to a lack of morals. Yes, poverty presents increased risk factors for crime. But, encouragingly, data show that even as more Americans have fallen into poverty in recent years, the crime rate over all — and, specifically, among juveniles — has dropped.
“Facts” are not Gingrich’s forte. Yet he is now the Republican front-runner. It just goes to show how bankrupt of compassion and allergic to accuracy that party is becoming.