A century ago, images of young children working in factories under dangerous working conditions shocked Americans. Since then, numerous child labor protections have been put in place to prevent exploitation and abuse.
But in the past two years, child labor laws have entered the crosshairs of some lawmakers. At least 10 states have introduced or passed legislation loosening child labor protections, including New Hampshire. Now, Granite State children as young as 14 can work around alcohol and 16-year-olds can work an almost 40-hour week.
"[Nationwide] we're finding kids in automobile factories on the floor of a packing house, or some chicken processing plants and in other manufacturing facilities, in seafood, in lots of industries where we really haven't seen children working in decades," said David Weil, Brandeis University professor and a former administrator for the Wage and Hour Division at the U.S. Department of Labor. "And now we're finding them in significant numbers and in very dangerous conditions, so it's unfortunately a real return to the past."
Some lawmakers are saying changing youth labor rules will help address worker shortages, but experts and advocates worry that these measures will negatively impact minors.
"We're seeing a coordinated multi-industry push to roll back labor standards, and what that's really reflecting is industry's desire to maintain and expand their access to pools of low wage labor," said Jennifer Sherer, director of the State Worker Power Initiative at the Economic Policy Institute. "And in this case doing that in a really disturbing way that can expose children to hazardous conditions or long, excessive hours that we know based on research, can put kids in a high risk category for their grades slipping."
What’s behind the newfound push to relax child labor laws?
Jennifer Sherer, director of the State Worker Power Initiative at the Economic Policy Institute
David Weil, professor at Brandeis University and former administrator of the Wage and Hour Division at the U.S. Department of Labor