Increasing Numbers of Underage Children Employed
A large portion of this post is taken from “The Unjust Cost of Child Labor,” Roosevelt Institute, as written by Alí R. Bustamante. I have added additional information from what I know and have read from current events. The Child Labor Statistics JPeg is taken from “Child Labor Violations on the Rise Amid State Efforts to Ease Laws” | Best States | U.S. News, Chris Gilligan. Oher parts of this commentary are written by myself or identified sources.
The rise in exploitative child labor is both a policy and societal failure. We see it most clearly in the Fair Labor Standards Act where employers are subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $68,801 if a labor violation leads to the death of a child worker. Yet, across America, policymakers are promoting child labor as necessary economic policy. The results of which make the reports of grisly injuries and deaths of child workers seem routine.
The penalty amount is too damn low (an update).
Across various states, corporations successfully lobbied policymakers to reduce child labor protection saving children from dangerous and exploitative work. New Hampshire now allows children as young as 14 to bus tables where alcohol is served. Arkansas recently enacted a law allowing 14 and 15-year-olds to work without parent permission. A law in Iowa has loosened age restrictions for children 14 and older to work in the previously excluded fields of roofing, demolition, and manufacturing. Iowa Governor Gov. Kim Reynolds . . .
“With this legislation Iowa joins 20 other states in providing tailored, common sense labor provisions (laws) that allow young adults to develop their skills in the workforce.”
Common sense laws, where have we heard this before? When used to support various efforts to pass new laws, it says you lack common sense rather than talking the issues. The phrase “common sense” to describe what “everybody knows” or judgments requiring no special expertise to be known and understood because they are readily apparent from the practice of daily life. So, we turn to 14 to 16 – year olds to fill the gap? The argument here is Wages and Overheard (update).
In my former state of Michigan, children younger than sixteen were found to be working at various places without the necessary work permits. At Hearthside Food Solutions in Grand Rapids an investigation by the New York Times revealed children (some younger than 15) were working illegally in overnight shifts at the food processing giant. Like many states in the U.S., Michigan has no infrastructure in place to track minor children who are working, where they work, and whether they are working to the labor standards required by the state. The permits are not sent to the education department or us or the Michigan Department of Labor. The underaged are lost in the processing of the permits in Michigan.
Increasing Labor Supply
Fueled by arguments of increasing labor supply and job opportunities for young workers, the reality is employers wanting to employ low cost children in order to exploit them by paying them lower wages. Employing those still recognized as children and offering them bad working conditions than they would have to pay and offer to adult workers.
Promoting child labor not only harms the children involved but also leads to a race to the bottom in terms of wages and working conditions for all workers. Corporations haven’t been quiet about profiteering from child labor either. Businesses have openly defied existing child labor protections and funded a multistate campaign with 115 lobbyists to dismantle child labor protections in 22 states.
The exploitation of child labor is not a new phenomenon. However, campaigning across the country to increase child labor as a means to reduce labor costs and increase profits lacks precedent. Shifting the laws and public sentiment about child labor has the power to undermine labor standards and put the welfare of children at risk for years to come. The persistence of “right-to-work laws” since their implementation in the 1940s is evidence that reductions in labor protections are not easily undone.
It is essential that we, as Americans parents and workers stand up in solidarity against any efforts to lower child labor protections. Policymakers can support this movement through a critical update of the 85-year-old Federal Labor Standards Act banning employment for all children under 16. Included in this updating is a significant strengthening the enforcement and penalties for child labor violations. Companies using child labor in their supply chains or seek to exploit child labor in any way must be held accountable for their actions. Only by doing so can we improve the safety and lives of children, fight back against corporate profiteering, and ensure a future where all workers are treated with dignity, respect, and fairness.