Idaho GOPer Wants Kids To Work For Their Tater Tots

Class War
Idaho GOPer Wants Kids To Work For Their Tater Tots
Classic school lunch. Yum. | Ben+Sam | Flickr

At least once a year, in between rants about how children need to be allowed to be children and if they find out that LGBTQ people exist they won't be children anymore somehow, some Republican somewhere comes out with the bright idea to bring child labor back. Last year and the year before, several states with Republican-controlled legislatures considered loosening up the child labor laws as a means to deal with the labor shortage. A few years further back, Indiana lawmaker Chip Perfect also wanted to loosen up the child labor laws, so that the minors he employed at his very own ski resort could work longer hours.

And of course, who among us can forget the many, many times Newt Gingrich has pushed the idea of making poor children work as school janitors.

"I tried for years to have a very simple model," he said in 2011, "These schools should get rid of unionized janitors, have one master janitor, pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work; they'd have cash; they'd have pride in the schools. They'd begin the process of rising."

Following in his footsteps is Idaho state Rep. Ron Mendive, who recently shared that he would like to see kids who get free lunches be put to work to "earn" them.

The comment was made during education committee debates surrounding the Idaho Launch initiative, which would give new high school graduates a minimum of $8,500 that could be used pay for college or training for jobs considered "in demand" in the state. It's a self-serving program proposed by Republican Governor Brad Little and designed to ensure that the state has the workers it needs, but of course Republicans in the state are trying to paint it as some form of wacky socialism.

Mendive explained that he made his own children pay to go to Europe for Bible college — because “We wanted them to have skin in that game and that’s what’s missing here. People need to take responsibility” — and then compared that situation to the kids who get free lunch at schools.

“If we could find a way for the students to work to earn credits for their school lunch, I don’t think we’d see any of the waste we do in that program because it doesn’t mean much,” Mendive said.

Responsibility is important. Even if we are taking all human feeling out of this situation, Mendive's suggestion is actually incredibly irresponsible. It is irresponsible to not educate children and it irresponsible to not feed them while they are at school, so that they can learn without being disturbed by hunger pangs. It is irresponsible to expect them to work when they should be learning.

It would also be irresponsible to go the Gingrich route of firing all of the janitors from jobs that allow them to support themselves in order to replace them with poor children. It would also be irresponsible to make children targets for bullying in that way and potentially scar them for life.

It is, however, responsible to ensure that a state has the workers it needs to function correctly. Not caring about this, and wanting to see everything as a matter of individuals taking personal responsibility to do what is in their own self interest, has led to a whole lot of unnecessary labor shortages. I happen to be in favor of free public college or trade school for everyone — because if we're going to have a country where people need to go to college or trade school to have a job that pays them a living wage, then we have to ensure that they are able to do that if we want to have a functioning society. Not everyone is with me on that, but it's what I happen to believe.

However, if we as a society need plumbers, we shouldn't be charging people to become plumbers. If we need doctors (which we really, really do), people should not be paying out the wazoo to become doctors. The responsible thing to do is to create the plumbers and doctors we need, instead of merely crossing our fingers and hoping that enough people are willing to pay to become plumbers and doctors.

Contrary to the narrative perpetuated by Mendive and others like him, kids who have everything handed to them rather than being forced to mop the floor to get their chicken tenders actually end up doing pretty well for themselves (thus the nepo-baby discourse). The kids who have time to study and do extracurricular activities end up having an easier time getting into college than do kids who have to work in order to help put food on the table — either at home or during school lunch.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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