Washington, DC – Republicans are seeking to roll back child labor laws in numerous states despite the high-profile revelations of migrant children’s exploitation, yet they refuse to work on real solutions to modernize our immigration system and make it possible for immigrants to come with visas or to get legal status to fill labor shortages. A few recent pieces of note have highlighted the GOP’s efforts to loosen protections around child labor:
In a Washington Post opinion piece titled “Expanding child labor is exactly what America’s kids don’t need,” Helaine Olen writes:
“Let’s be clear: We’re not talking about kids babysitting, getting a summer job, or working at the mall for a few hours after school, all of which are perfectly legal. We’re talking about teenagers working long and late hours year-round in often dangerous occupations, endangering their health, rest, safety and future.
…When it comes to child labor laws, we should — if anything — be putting tighter curbs on employing high school students. If there are concerns about a labor shortage, expand the number of legal immigrants, help teens get work permits to do safe after-school jobs — or simply raise wages. What doesn’t make sense is for one party to be more concerned about the imaginary threat of drag queen story hours than about jobs for children that could cause irreversible harm to their life prospects.”
In “Arkansas Loosened Child Labor Laws. That’s a Travesty” Francis Wilkinson, a writer for Bloomberg Opinion, highlights the implications of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and fellow Arkansas Republicans loosening child labor laws:
“This month the state rescinded a regulation requiring employers to sign a permit before employing a minor under the age of 16.
The permit had consisted of a single page, with the employer section consuming about half. Employers stated the hours and type of work for which the minor would be employed. Then the employer signed the document, providing some measure of accountability in the event the commitments made on paper weren’t honored. From start to finish, the document typically took less than one week to process.
…If the ultimate problem here is a tight labor market, the US could increase legal immigration. But that solution rankles MAGA racial sensibilities. It may also be beside the point. Back in 2009, when national unemployment was around 9%, Maine’s proto-MAGA governor at the time, Paul LePage, was already seeking to lower labor standards for children, even though there wasn’t enough work to go around for adults. In the race to the 19th century, Dickensian factories are a model suitable to all economic conditions.”
As Timothy Noah points out in The New Republic, “GOP’s Idea of Youth: Little League? Proms? Try Working in a Slaughterhouse and Marrying at 10”:
“Arkansas Governor and Republican Party darling Sarah Sanders joined presidential hopeful and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu in actually signing a pro–child labor bill into law. The law eliminates what a Sanders spokesperson termed a “burdensome” requirement for the state to verify the age of anyone age 15 or 16 who seeks employment. The law’s chief sponsor, Republican state legislator Rebecca Burkes, said the requirement “steps in front of parents’ decision-making process about whether their child under 16 years of age can get a job.” Uh, that’s why it was enacted back in 1914: because too many parents were sending their kids out to work rather than allowing them to attend school.
According to an important new report from the Economic Policy Institute, or EPI, at least 10 states have introduced bills weakening child labor protections during the past two years, and four have enacted them—New Hampshire, Arkansas, New Jersey, and (here’s one I missed) Iowa, which last year lowered (from 18 to 16) the minimum age for workers in childcare centers. The EPI report also said that the number of child labor violations has nearly quadrupled since 2015, from 1,012 to 3,876.”
According to Vanessa Cárdenas, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
“Boosting the economy , combating inflation and filling labor market needs now and in future requires immigrants and immigration reform. We overly restrict and bureaucratize legal channels for immigrant workers while making it next to impossible for those already living here to earn legal status.
The broken, inadequate reality of our current immigration system is no more evident than the reports about child labor abuses. Republicans are blocking the legislative fixes we sorely need to keep our economy humming and growing, measures to ensure workers are operating on a level playing field, yet they are fine with turning back the clock to the days of exploitative child labor. It is a sad comment on the GOP and the level to which their own nativism has skewed their priorities.”