My sisters and I worked from the time we hit pre-teen until we retired. We always wanted things that our family budget couldn’t cover, so making my own money was the way I paid for my first pair of contacts, a new winter coat that I really didn’t need, or a haircut from a professional rather than my mother. Our jobs covered the spectrum: babysitting, hospital aide, salesperson, office assistant, waitressing. These jobs taught us to handle money, work with people, and manage time. These skills were a keystone to my somewhat successful life.
Nobody argues that children benefit from work experience, as long as it is overseen by parents, state law, and decent employers.
So why are laws that protect children in the workforce changing in 2023, particularly in Republican states ?
Since Part 2 of this series, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds stated that she will sign a bill into law that will roll back labor protections for children by allowing them to work longer hours at jobs that had previously been prohibited, according to the Washington Post. And Wisconsin legislators introduced a bill that allows children 14 and younger to serve alcohol in restaurants.
Other states are considering loosening child labor restrictions, citing parents who approve of their children’s employment and voters who want to limit federal laws. Promoted by conservative groups mentioned in Parts 1 and 2 and employers looking for cheap labor in an ever-dwindling workforce, children seem to be the answer to Republican’s prayers.
This comes after the U.S. Labor Department announced last Tuesday that it discovered two 10-year-old children working at McDonald’s in Louisville, Kentucky. And they sometimes labored until 2 in the morning, according to Vox News. As a retired teacher, I know what this does to a student’s ability to focus in the classroom.
Also, according to Vox, the Labor Department’s budget is now operating with less funding and 12% fewer staff since 2010. The department’s Office of the Solicitor has lost more than 100 attorneys over the past 10 years, also due to budget cuts. So organizations like the Foundation for Government Accountability, the Cato Institute, the Koch brothers, and now politicians can move to change the child labor laws with limited push-back from the Labor Department. Maybe the Republican effort to defund the government isn’t just about supporting individual freedom, but also about exploiting child workers.
Keep a few things in mind: rich kids don’t generally have after school jobs, so this new work force being exploited by the right comes from poor and working-class families. And that demographic is growing, making this a rich source of labor - cheap labor. Migrant children have always been employed in agriculture; these new rules make children as young as 14 legal for dangerous construction and meat-packing jobs.
But, as always with 21st century Republicans, there seems to be some blatant hypocrisy afoot.
For example, how can a party that aligns itself entirely with the rights of an unborn child, even to the extent of harming or killing the mother, be okay with a child that labors in unsafe working conditions for unlimited hours ? Maybe being anti-abortion now means being pro-child labor ? But maybe I do see the connection. If more children are born, well then, that increases your work pool, doesn’t it ?
And this conservative party says it cares so much about what children read that it bans books in droves, making sure that no child is exposed to an idea the party doesn’t support. So how can this same group be okay with a child working long hours and jeopardizing her ability to learn to read all those banned books ? Hmm…but maybe that’s it. If kids can’t read, then Republicans don’t have to worry about banning any more books, a highly unpopular idea anyway. An added plus is that this increases illiteracy in the voter pool, making the electorate more susceptible to misinformation from the right.
Finally, how can a party that cares so much about the autonomy of parents on issues like social media, school curriculum, and Disney take away the right of parents to give consent when their child applies for a job, as proposed in several red state legislatures and just signed into law in Arkansas ? Maybe it’s because parental rights don’t matter that much when bumping up against the demand for cheap labor by the captains of industry.
The Republican party cares about three things: money, its wealthy constituents who fuel campaigns, and power. Period. It’s a party that lives and will eventually die by the mantra that money trickles down and one must feed the powerful corporations, not the hungry.
In Virginia, the state code regulates the number of hours, days, and jobs a child can work during school and in the summer. You can check the specifications by age and legality of jobs for child laborers at this address: https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacodefull/title40.1/chapter5/
These are good laws: we need to vote for democrats to keep them that way.