By Eric Edmonds
The opinions expressed are his own.
Republican Presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich continues to insist that child labor laws in the U.S. are “truly stupid,” that the poor lack good work habits, and that the former would solve the latter. He hasn’t mentioned any specific policy changes, yet it’s clear that he doesn’t like the way things are done now, and that that he thinks America would be better off if kids worked more. If only the economics agreed.
Gingrich hasn’t been clear about what exactly he wants, but he seems to be advocating two complementary policies. First, he would like to see a reduction in the minimum age of employment. While campaigning in Cambridge, he said, “You go out and talk to people who are really successful in one generation. They all started their first job between 9 and 14 years of age.” Second, he wants to put poor children to work in their schools, because “really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits for working and have nobody around them who work.” Granted, if there really is no proclivity to work, it’s not clear how he will actually get these children to start working.
Nevertheless, let’s imagine Gingrich gets his wish. What would be the practical consequences of a reduction in the minimum age of employment in the U.S.? Most likely, nothing good.
The biggest hole in Gingrich’s plan is a simple one: adding more workers does not create new jobs. With 1,373,000 youths 16 to 19 currently looking for work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, adding even younger children to this pile would likely serve to increase unemployment or reduce unskilled wages further.
Already, 23.7 percent of youths ages 16-19 who are actively seeking employment are unemployed. Add 20.7 million children between 10-14 to the mix, and (assuming they chose to work at the same rate as children 16-19) we’d see nearly 7 million children competing for the same number of jobs that exist today. The economy wouldn’t grow, but by my estimation the national unemployment rate could rise to 13 percent when 7 million more potential workers compete for the same number of jobs.