Victoria's Secret store, Briarwood Mall, Ann A...

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On ABC’s World News tonight, much was made of poor children in Africa picking cotton which may have been incorporated in some products sold by Victoria’s Secret. More attention should be placed on child labor closer to home, here in the US in our agricultural fields.

 

Work

Children gathering potatoes on a large farm, v...

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Most Americans consider hard work a virtue, but is it the only virtue? In the not-too-distant past, adults worked 12-14 hour days 6 days per week, while children started work at 9 or 10 years of age. Do we want to return to those days as Newt Gingrich has suggested for poorer school children? Our labor laws already encourage the children of migrant farm laborers to work at an early age at the expense of their schooling. Is our desire for cheap food so important that we are willing to sacrifice the education of poor children?

I attended a local meeting of the Patrick Henry Caucus at which a Utah state legislator spoke. Her biggest applause line occurred when she expressed disapproval of undocumented children in the classroom. The parents of those children may have been illegal, but I am willing to bet $10, not $10,000, that most of the children were US citizens. In poorer societies, working from dawn to dusk may be the only option. As societies become richer, other options become available. Some people may choose to continue working 70 hours per week, while others may decide to accept fewer material goods with at the same time more leisure. Leisure is not a waste of one’s time. We humans need leisure to maintain good health.

Leisure may be used for recreation and to spend more time with one’s family. In my opinion, this will create stronger marriages with children more likely to become drug-free adults, not criminal members of gangs. Leisure can also be used for self-education to advance in the workplace as well as keeping informed of current events for good citizenship and intelligent participation in politics. There have always been some who believe that an education is a dangerous thing; only the ruling elite should have a good education and the leisure to use it. College education in the US is changing from teaching students to think to teaching students an occupation.

I agree that work is a virtue, but it is not the only virtue. And hard work can be overdone. One of Newt’s excuses for a previous infidelity was that he was overworked. When I was in my mid-20s, I worked 11 hour days, 5 days a week for about six weeks when my employer moved from Chicago to Santa Barbara. It was an office job, but I remember how tired I was. Then when I worked in a hospital as an aide in my late 40s, I worked for 6-9 months from 11am to 1130pm, 12 hour shifts 9 days in a row and then 5 days off every two weeks. Working as an aide was not that tiring, but it did not pay well. I worked the extra hours to boost my income. The first day off was a day to recover and then I could enjoy the following 4 days. When I worked 11 or 12 hour days, I had no time or energy for any other activities.

If we expect all Americans to spend time with their families, to volunteer for community activities and to be informed citizens, then we must provide all Americans with an adequate income for fulltime employment. No one can be a good husband/wife/father/mother who has neither the time nor the energy to spend with his/her family.