Newt Gingrich earned the loudest applause of the night during Monday’s Republican debate when he repeated his absurd, profoundly misleading argument that students should replace unionized janitors in schools.
Gingrich first advanced his controversial argument in November, when he told an audience at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government that child labor laws were “extraordinarily stupid,” and that he would fire janitors and pay the students to clean schools instead. Two weeks later, he told an Iowa crowd that
“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.”
Then last night, when moderator Juan Williams asked Gingrich if he understood how his comments could be viewed as insulting, Gingrich doubled down on his position.
“New York City pays their janitors an absurd amount of money because of the union. You could take one janitor and hire 30-some kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor, and those 30 kids would be a lot less likely to drop out. They would actually have money in their pocket. They’d learn to show up for work. They could do light janitorial duty. They could work in the cafeteria. They could work in the front office. They could work in the library. They’d be getting money, which is a good thing if you’re poor. Only the elites despise earning money.
Putting aside Gingrich’s laughable assertion that “only the elites despise earning money” — which makes one wonder whether having a $1,000,000 line of credit at Tiffany’s makes Gingrich elite, and whether he himself despises earning money — Gingrich’s claim about New York janitors is flat out wrong.
As Leo Kapakos of Examiner.com points out, the average salary for an entry level janitor in New York City is $15.77 per hour, or $32,801 a year, while the entry level salary of a teacher is $45,000. Some custodial engineers do make more than entry level teachers, but those positions require a four year degree (and it can be safely assumed that most high school students aren’t qualified to maintain boilers.)
So unless Gingrich is planning to pay these students 53 cents an hour — which probably wouldn’t accomplish his goal of teaching them “the habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash'” — his claim that we could replace one janitor with 30 students is false.
Gingrich went on to pledge to Williams that “I’m going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job and learn some day to own the job.”
First of all, the best way to “help poor people learn how to get a job” is to educate them, not to make them spend their time in school mopping floors. Gingrich’s hope that poor students learn “to own the job” suggests that he acknowledges that his plan will lock them into unskilled work such as being a janitor — until other students eventually replace them, of course.
Finally, there’s one more question that Gingrich should answer about his offensive economic plan: if he wants to teach people to demand paychecks instead of food stamps, how exactly does he plan to support the scores of custodial workers whose jobs he hopes to replace with child labor?