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Gingrich Didn’t Go Far Enough in Criticizing Americans’ Work Ethic

It's not just poor minority parents who fail to instill good work habits in their children.

by
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

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December 29, 2011 - 12:00 am
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Current GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich has diagnosed a major problem with our society.

Well, he almost did. During a recent interview, I told him that I thought he had made a very good point about the diminishing work ethic of many Americans. But, I said, he hadn’t gone far enough. He should have widened his net to include a host of people that he hadn’t thought of.

“I’ve been talking a little bit about the importance of work,” Gingrich recently told reporters at a press conference in New York, “particularly as it relates to people who are in areas where there is public housing and where there are relatively few people who go to work.”

There it is. “People who are in areas where there is public housing.” In other words, poor folks. Those are the people Newt thinks need the lesson about how to work.

To illustrate his point, he asked the roomful of assembled journalists: “How many of you earned some money doing something before you were 10 years old, whether it was cutting grass or babysitting or something?”

Gingrich submits that, with successful people, it tends to be the case that they got an early start learning about the value of work, and the importance of holding down a job.

Of course, not everyone learns those lessons. And Gingrich zeroed in on one group in particular. He pointed out that, for instance, with African-American teenagers, the unemployment rate is a staggering 43 percent. So he submits that government should help create a “pathway to work” so that “people get in the work habit and learn the skills to be successful.”

Gingrich is right to try to engage Americans in a discussion about the importance of working and to suggest that some people have never learned the value of holding down a job.

But he is wrong to limit the indictment to poor people, those who live in “public housing,” and African-American teenagers with high unemployment rates. The lack of a work ethic is a major problem, but it’s also a mainstream one.

Newt has the right message, and it’s an important one. But he needs to take it to the well-to-do suburbs and the country clubs. That’s where they really need to hear it.

In fact, as someone who speaks to groups all over the country, I worry less about students from poor families who lack resources and opportunities than I do about those from the upper middle class who lack passion and purpose. Poor kids often have a fire in their belly. Upper middle class kids can sometimes be harder to motivate, especially if they’ve never been taught to work by their parents.

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