Some states are seeking to “relax” child labor laws in response to the growing labor shortage challenging businesses across the country. According to The Washington Post, businesses are looking towards youth to fill their hiring needs as their labor would be cheaper than adults who, some say, would demand better pay and benefits.
The Washington Post reports, “legislators in Iowa and Minnesota introduced bills in January to loosen child labor law regulations around age and workplace safety protections in some of the country’s most dangerous workplaces. Minnesota’s bill would permit 16- and 17-year-olds to work construction jobs. The Iowa measure would allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work certain jobs in meatpacking plants.”
The Iowa bill would also increase the amount of hours a teenager can work during the school year, and would “shield businesses from civil liability if a youth worker is sickened, injured or killed on the job.”
Critics have called on legislators to remember the reason why child labor laws were created in the first place, citing conditions of the early 20th century. Leading the arguments against such legislation is the hazardous conditions that young children would be subjected to in taking such jobs.
Proponents of the bill, however, argue that there is a desperate need for labor, and with adults appearing to be unwilling to fill that need, businesses must turn to youth who would be more willing to take the open positions. Others say that during tough economic times, families may depend on a child earning money to help stay afloat.
Federal regulators have recently caught child labor violations, reports The Washington Post. In August, the Department of Labor sued a Hyundai supplier in Alabama after Reuters reported that they were using workers as young as 12 years old. In Nebraska, a meat producing plant settled with the Department of Labor in December after it was reported that an “underage worker allegedly sustained chemical burns from cleaning agents used at the facility.”
Many have cited the importance of focusing on school, but some are still proponents of increasing hours, even during the school year. As states consider relaxing child labor laws, history suggests that a passionate debate will likely ensue regarding the treatment of America’s youth and what lawmakers believe would be best for them.