Day-Scare Dropouts

Sometimes the right man for the job is a child

Have you seen the toddlers camping out beneath the freeway overpasses recently? You know, the ones holding signs that read, "Will bawl for food?" Maybe you've stumbled upon preteens dressed like Christy Aguilera approaching stopped cars across from the Guthrie Theater? Haven't come across that, you say? Well, me neither. So why is the Wellstone-worshiping media trying to convince us that Governor Pawlenty's compassionate cuts will be destroying the next generation of the state's youth? From Minnesota Public Radicals (oops, I mean "radio") to the Star Poltroon (exactly what I mean), the press wants to scare us into redistributing money from the earners to the moochers. In fact, I'm starting to believe that the rags reap more advertising revenue by splashing hungry, brown-skinned tots on the front page--why else would they lie like Bill Clinton in marriage counseling?

The whopper of the week (brought to you by Burger King) is that thousands of children will soon be tossed out of daycare and into the crack dens next door. The source of this hysteria among the state's hanky-wringing special interests, you ask? The elimination of some $86 million in childcare waste from the state's bloated budget. Now if every career lobbyist agreed to mentor one child each through his neighborhood church or temple, this so-called crisis could be ended in a day. Instead, these self-styled do-gooders are making the rounds with all kinds of cooked-up statistics. (There's a reason these innumerates aren't doing something productive like accounting.) A family of four earning $18,400 a year, for instance, will go from contributing $5 a month for childcare to $59--a 1,081 percent increase. (Dumping premium cable for a few months would take care of that bill, no?) A single, working mother earning $27,000 with two kids would go from paying $96 a month to being ineligible for the program--and would face bills of $1,000 a month for care in the for-profit marketplace.

Now why this woman would be single and need to fob off her loved ones on strangers is a subject for another day. It's a fact that some women can't land a breadwinner--coarse manners, dodgy hygiene, who knows?--and they might need someone to look after the rugrats during office hours. And some of Minnesota's recent immigrants--how to put this delicately?--well, they've been doing more than their fair share to bump up America's stagnant birthrate.

Fortunately, what our value-minded legislature has taken away, the free market can give back. What we're going to do is take away the handouts and hand out jobs. Now I'm not in favor of asking mothers to slave away for 120 hours a week--earning money that consumer researchers suggest often goes toward new lingerie and extra lottery tickets. Instead, a growing number of conservative thinkers are starting to reach a new consensus: Give kids the chance to earn their own money by liberalizing--I love that word!--the state's labor laws.

While roughly half the state's 16- and 17-year-olds currently hold down jobs, those employment rates drop like the Democrat Party's poll numbers when you look at 14- and 15-year-olds. At least these kids have a fair crack at a paycheck, though. The problem is that the overprotective mother that is Minnesota likes to think that it can tend to our kids better than we can. And so it deprives children younger than 14 of any chance at an outside income--making them what even the bureaucrats in St. Paul call the largest unemployed group in Minnesota.

What's the right age for a child to join the labor force? I'll answer that question with a question of my own: What's the right age for a child to learn to read? As early as he can. Don't get me wrong: Not every tyke belongs on the factory floor. (Though a few have the maturity and agility to do jobs that would best a full-grown man.) You say 12, I say nine, the child development experts say as early as six. The undisputed fact is that we all know bright, responsible 10-year-olds who make the rounds of the cul-de-sac after winter snowstorms with an expertly wielded shovel. Maybe I'm going to hear from the IRS for having failed to pay Social (In)Security taxes for those eager young entrepreneurs. But why can't a team of such children on a happy snow day contract themselves out to a proper landscaping firm where they'd pull in a decent wage? (That wage, by the way, ought to be the $3.35 minimum that it was a little more than a decade ago--before the U.S. Congress decided to pander to the criminal demands of mobster unions instead of obeying the fair laws of supply and demand.)

I like to write some funny stuff, but on this next point I'm more sober than a guy with a 50-year-chip from AA: We underestimate our kids--and their earning potential--at our own peril. Explain this logic to me. We don't mind stranding our children alone from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.--hours they spend internalizing rebelliousness from sleaze outlets like VH1. But we prohibit our grade schoolers from learning obedience and the rewards of hard work by cleaning the meat freezer of the grocery store around the corner? Our own armed forces will contract out computer programming to prospective terrorists in Bangalore. But we won't let the most imaginative arcade gamers in the world help defend their own country. Does any of that make sense to you? Heck, if I understood those paradoxes, I'd probably be able to explain why our nation's Supreme Court thinks it should be permissible for a consenting man to fall in love with his own sister and then leave her to marry a donkey.

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