Child Labor Laws Are Under Attack in States Across the Country

States across the U.S. are dismantling long-standing child labor laws. Legislators in Republican states are invoking a widespread labor shortage to push bills that would weaken child labor laws.

Some bills go beyond expanding eligibility or working hours for run-of-the-mill teen jobs. They’d make it easier for kids to fill physically demanding roles at potentially hazardous work sites.

Protections could be stripped for youth most at risk of being exploited by employers, such as migrant children and kids from families facing financial problems.

The Economic Policy Institute released a report finding that states are trying to weaken child labor protections, just as violations of these standards are rising. 

The report called for lawmakers to act to strengthen standards amid increasing child labor violations. 

Federal laws providing minimum protections for child labor were enacted nearly a century ago, leading many to assume that children working in grueling and/or dangerous jobs were a thing of the past. 

In fact, violations of child labor laws are on the rise, as are attempts by state lawmakers to weaken the standards that protect children in the workplace.

Civil rights and legal experts say it is preposterous that states are looking to put children at risk in order to meet some claimed labor shortages. 

Arkansas has come into the spotlight in particular, where Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) last week signed a law that makes it easier for teens as young as 14 to work without obtaining a permit. 

In Iowa, lawmakers are considering Republican legislation that would allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work in industrial laundry services and freezers at meatpacking plants. 

It’d also prevent many of them from receiving worker’s compensation if they are sickened, injured, or killed on the job.

The federal government promised to crack down on illegal child labor last month after observing a 69 percent increase in companies employing underage workers since 2018.

States will still have to comply with federal regulations, which sets standards for the types of jobs minors can work. 

The Economic Policy Institute called for state and federal lawmakers to protect and advance the rights of workers of all ages and backgrounds while protecting poor and immigrant youth from exploitation. 

Policy recommendations include raising the minimum wage and eliminating subminimum wages for youth, ending the two-tiered system of standards for agricultural and nonagricultural work, enforcing wage and hour laws, passing key immigration reforms, and supporting workers’ right to organize and form unions.

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