In The News
Wisconsin’s childish attempt at a jobs bill
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted June 14, 2011
Finally! Gov. Walker’s minions have produced a jobs bill! That’s atypical and fairly amazing, but it happened -- without fanfare, practically dead of night, inserted by the joint finance committee into that two-year budget speeding through the GOP-controlled legislature 95% as Walker decreed.
So celebrate, Wisconsin! All you citizens who have been scouring this complicated legislation in vain for something immediate about jobs right now while almost all the projected savings come from stuff like a 5% increase in UW system tuition.
Surely we can find one lousy tiny job-creating plan in an “emergency session” to address a deficit modest among all the state. Surely somewhere along with strangling union rights, rewarding corporate backers with lavish tax breaks and shrinking public services and aid to education, there must be SOMETHING in this budget to address the need to make it easier for Americans to find work.
And here it is! On June 6 came a jobs proposal. Some bleeding heart liberals may see a problem, because the proposal is all about making it easier to put kids to work for under adult minimum wage by loosening existing child labor laws. But those are jobs, aren’t they?
The proposal revises child labor laws to end the prohibition on minors under age 18 working more than 40 hours or six days a week. After lifting that limit, it moves beyond to weaken the protection of minors under 16 who are now limited to working 24 hours a week. That would be replaced with a limit of 18 hours in a school week or a full 40 hours of work during a week with no school in session.
I’ve heard some weak-kneed kid-loving types scoff at this whole idea, but from Maine to Madison, the right-wing argues that hard work never hurt anyone and the changes are sorely needed to pound some American values into these lazy adolescents, to toughen up all those pampered little shrimps who now spend far too much time playing, studying and socializing. Now they can work 40 hours digging ditches, doing data entry, weeding, chopping and all the other drudge benefits that Walker’s forces can now provide their friends in business on the cheap – and without health care!
Many businesses could benefit from a new source of undemanding low-wage -- not to mention low-age -- workers. In Wisconsin, where agriculture is a major industry, the possibility of full weeks of work from 12-year-old fruit pickers and cranberry rakers getting the goods to market would clearly keep costs down for middle class shoppers.
Forget all those academic studies that kids working this long tend not to adjust to society, not to complete high school at normal rates or get stuck on the bottom rung of our economy. There is always a small percent that responds to such brutality by rising to high levels, though admittedly they tend to be Democrats and Latinos. The progressives outraged by all this are probably exaggerating the likelihood of abuse by small businesses from the weakening of child labor laws or the possibility that desperate families might exploit their own children for economic gain if society lets them.
At least this budget item seems to have drawn less criticism within the GOP than did the “Jobs Now Fund” that Walker tried to insert. That one was scuttled by members of his own party as well as Democrats as a blatant reward to the CAPCOs that supported him. The plan was to give these out of state capital management firms $250 million and immense profits to provide investments to Wisconsin companies with no state job strings attached.
That “job fund” idea didn’t fly and neither did the plan since January of slashing SeniorCare (the state program that provides prescriptions drugs at far less cost to seniors and the government than Medicare Part D). That was an interesting example of the GOP bending to pressure, particularly when 14,000 citizens signed petitions, leading original backers, such as recall-target Sen. Alberta Darling, scrambling to sound like saviors not slashers.
So in an effort to provide cover to threatened recall targets, or to mollify public anger over extreme cuts, some pressure has been working. It’s been effective when the public gets upset by an attack on the elderly, the working mother, the ill, the teacher, etc., that is not about saving money but about pretending to be cost conscious. The public has also been moved to protest, and the GOP has leapt back in fear, when the budget items are patently protections or favors to special interests.
Some observers expect that to happen to the proposal to weaken child labor laws once the public realizes its existence. Others think it’s a Eureka moment to actually find something in a Walker budget that tries to put people to work – even little people.