Maine’s conservative governor said the state was not using one of its greatest resources by keeping children out of the workforce until they were nearly old enough to join the military.
“We don’t allow children to work until they’re 16, but two years later, when they’re 18, they can go to war and fight for us,” said Gov. Paul LePage.
The Republican governor, who has said he started working at age 11, claimed the state economy was harmed by not allowing children to enter the workforce.
“I started working far earlier than that, and it didn’t hurt me at all,” LePage said. “There is nothing wrong with being a paperboy at 12 years old, or at a store sorting bottles at 12 years old.”
Students who wish to work in Maine before age 16 must get a permit from their school superintendent, among other requirements.
LePage plans to introduce legislation that would remove those restrictions and require children to get only a parent’s permission for summer jobs.
A spokeswoman for the governor said LePage won’t ask for changes to laws limiting the number of hours children can work — three hours on school days and 18 hours in a school week, or eight hours a day and 40 hours in a week when there is no school.
“We’re not demanding that our kids work in sweatshops,” said spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett. “We’re simply asking to speed up the work permit process.”
LePage has previously – and inaccurately — claimed that 47 percent of Maine’s able-bodied residents choose not to work.
In fact, according to the state’s Department of Labor, about 65 percent of residents over 15 years old are working or unemployed and actively seeking work.
In addition to tapping its human resources, LePage encouraged the use of other natural resources in Maine.
“You’re the folks we want to bring prosperity to,” he told a crowd of several hundred people at the 73rd annual Maine Agricultural Trades Show on Tuesday.
“If the revenues go up, I can go golfing,” LePage added. “If not, I’m going to have to continue working 80 hours a week.”
The executive director of Maine Children’s Alliance said she sympathized with LePage, who left home as a child to escape an abusive father, but she doesn’t understand why he wants children to work.
“That’s his journey, but it doesn’t have to be every child’s journey,” said Claire Berkowitz, of Maine Children’s Alliance.
[Image via Maine Department of Education, Creative Commons licensed]