US Catholic Faith in Real Life

What Gingrich doesn't get about poverty

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Newt Gingrich, the most recent Republican presidential candidate to take a surge to the top of the polls, has been catching national attention with his solutions on how to improve the nation. However, Gingrich has recently has shown some alarming less-than-keen insights on the reality of poverty in America.

Gingrich, speaking last week in Des Moines, Iowa, said, "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."

Let’s put aside for now Gingrich’s proposed solution—having poor children work as janitors, cleaning toilets in between classes to learn a model of good work behavior—and instead focus on how Gingrich appears to assume that no one who lives in a poor neighborhood is working (except for the occasional drug dealer).

Unemployment rates have been in the headlines for years as we’ve struggled with our nation’s financial meltdown. With this unemployment crisis, it might be easy to forget that it is a reality to have a job and to still be poor. Many of the people in Gingrich’s hypothetical poor neighborhood likely do work, probably at jobs and during hours that many Americans wouldn’t consider.

I have a friend who works an overnight shift four nights a week essentially sorting through trash for minimum wage payment. Despite having a job (and showing up to it consistently and working hard at it), he is among our nation's large number of working poor. His story of working long hours at a low-paying job while being unable to make ends meet is not unique. (Last week Kathryn Baer at Poverty Insights nicely summarized how it is possible to still be poor—and even homeless—despite having a job.)

Perhaps Gingrich, a Catholic, should bear in mind the principles of Catholic social teaching and strive toward a future where people can enjoy the dignity of productive work with fair, living wages. This would likely do more to inspire our children than employing them as the school janitors.