When Nickaro Young, Khalid Bullock and Rian Hayes heard what the GOP presidential candidate was saying about young people like them and their peers in the Congress Heights neighborhood of the District, they bristled, briefly. Then they went back to their responsibilities.
Which for Young, 16, includes walking to the IHOP on Alabama Avenue SE, where he is a host on weekends. Bullock, 17, helps out at his father’s store, Shar Retailers on Martin Luther King Boulevard SE, and last month he co-founded a nonprofit to help young people put their talent to work in the community.
Hayes, 17, is studying hard to become a lawyer, after a successful internship this past summer at the downtown law firm of Alston & Bird.
“He’s got it way wrong,” says Young, a junior at Ballou High School, who has applied for weekday work at other stores and restaurants, so far with no luck. “How would he know if he’s not where we’re at?”
“We have the desire, we just don’t have the opportunity,” says Bullock, 17, a senior at Ballou, who is waiting to hear back from Giant, Foot Locker and Starbucks, to supplement his work at the family business. “I’m looking for more experience.”
Congress Heights, where Ballou is located, is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city’s poorest ward. More than a third of the residents of Ward 8 live below the poverty line, and the median household income is $31,188, compared with the citywide median of $56,519, according to the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau.
Hayes says Gingrich’s observation may accurately characterize some young people, but not most teens she knows.
“The kids who don’t work, they believe that getting money on the streets would be faster,” says Hayes also a senior at Ballou. “But I know more kids like myself who want to actually get a job and not get over easily by using their parents’ money or doing something illegal.”
Gingrich’s remarks at a campaign stop in Iowa ricocheted around the blogosphere and the political talk shows over the weekend. The candidate has also proposed putting children to work as janitors in schools to give them work experience.
By Monday, according to MSNBC, Donald Trump said he was inspired by Gingrich to consider creating a program for poor schoolchildren in New York City modeled on his television show, “The Apprentice.”
“It wasn’t maybe politically correct, but it happens to be the truth,” Trump said on NBC’s “Today” show, referring to Gingrich’s comments.
Gingrich, meanwhile, moved to take some of the sting out of his comments, telling reporters, according to CBS, that he was not referring to the “working poor,” but to young people in housing projects or sections where few people have jobs.