Newt Gingrich got a lot of attention—mostly negative—late last year when he told an audience at Harvard University that he would do away with “truly stupid” child labor laws that prevent kids in poor neighborhoods from being put to work. He then one-upped himself by suggesting during the Dec. 10 GOP debate in Iowa that poor kids could learn the value of a hard day’s work by taking the jobs of union janitors in New York public schools.
Gingrich’s comments were seen at the time as just another example of his seeming inability to refrain from saying whatever pops into his head. Yet his speech reflected changes already occurring in two states. Republican politicians in Maine and Wisconsin have relaxed decades-old child labor laws, enacted to protect children from being forced to work long hours under dangerous conditions, claiming they no longer make sense.