Part One of this series dealt with the history of child labor in America. Now let’s see what’s changed over the past 200 years.
To be clear, children have always provided a cheap source of labor for industry and agriculture. Poverty has always provided a plentiful supply of children who need to eat. And employers have always been more than happy to exploit both.
Now, it seems, so is the Republican Party.
If you’ve been paying attention to state houses across the country, particularly in red states, then you know that child labor laws and regulations are being rolled back under the guise of fewer federal regulations are better and more freedom for potential workers.
This is happening on the heels of the US Department of Labor’s alert in July that child labor violations had increased by 69% since 2018. And, according to the Washington Post, “between 2018 and 2022, federal regulators opened cases for 4,144 child labor violations covering 15,462 youth workers.” In addition, the government reported child labor violations In Alabama at the Hyundai and Kia plants, in Nebraska and Minnesota at the JBS meatpacking plants, and fast food chains including McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Chipotle.
Current child labor laws are not particularly onerous. Children under the age of 14 can’t work in any nonagricultural job. Minors 16 and younger are restricted in hours and types of labor, and those younger than eighteen are prohibited from working in any hazardous occupation.
Undaunted by the rise in child labor violations and pushed by right-wing conservative groups like the Foundation for Government Accountability, the laws in many states are changing to allow more children to work longer hours, in more demanding occupations, and in some cases, without the consent of their parents.
For example, Arkansas, which used to require proof of age, parental permission, and an employer’s signature, eliminated work permit requirements for children under 16. This removed the paperwork necessary to monitor violations in labor laws in the state. However, The Youth Hiring Act of 2023 left in place regulations for job types and hours for children.
Iowa lawmakers are considering a Republican bill allowing 14 and 15-year-olds to work in meatpacking freezers and industrial laundry services. The bill would also limit or prevent child workers from receiving worker’s compensation if they get sick, injured, or killed on the job.
Democrats and Republicans in Ohio are considering a bill that would remove a cap on the number of hours children as young as 14 can work during the school year, as long as a parent or legal guardian approves.
State Senator Rich Draheim of Minnesota is chief author of a bill that proposes exemptions to child labor regulations due to the loss of 90,000 workers in the state. The proposal extends hours that children can legally work and also expands the type of work open to those under 18, making construction jobs legal.
According to Draheim, “Eliminating work opportunities for youth just because of their age will make it even harder for businesses to find reliable employees.”
What he’s saying is that kids are cheap. And like I already said, hungry kids are plentiful these days.
And that’s the point, isn’t it?
Businesses are having a hard time hiring and keeping employees, so Republicans are turning to the 19th century solution of child labor. And as long as poverty exists, that labor source will be limitless.
... To Be Continued ...