Opinion: Yes, child labor is a bad thing


Flickr, Public Domain

Child laborers during the early 1900s movements for workers’ rights hold picket signs in protest. Recently, there is a concerning movement advocating for the loosening of child labor laws in the U.S.

Grace Metz, Editor-In-Chief

A dozen anxious kids stand around the governor of Arkansas as ink wets paper and history is made.
After a long-fought battle within the two chambers of the Arkansas legislature, the Republican-led majority held strong against the liberal mob as their victory neared: a decades old child labor law is now dead in the water. The children may yearn for the mines once more.
The new bill limited oversight from the Department of Labor by allowing those under the age of 16 to work without permission from their schools.
However, the timing of this could not have been worse.
Since 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor has witnessed an increase of at least 69% in the number of children employed illegally.
In Arkansas, where the support for deregulation is most prevalent, meatpacking plants were found in violation of employment laws which restricted children from working with heavy machinery.
The company was fined a mere $60,500, just 0.00003% of their total revenue.
This unprecedented movement seems to have stemmed from the ongoing culture war between Republican lawmakers and liberal activists, as conservatives seek to eradicate the achievements of Democratic representatives, ultimately putting more at risk of exploitation.

T for Teen

Arkansas is not the first nor will it be the last state to repeal these protections, as the concerning movement to put more kids to work gains traction among red states, and those children standing around Governor Sanders may be the next plaintiffs in a child labor case.
Though children are the face of the movement, teenagers are also at risk of being exploited by large corporations.
Bills in Iowa and Minnesota would allow teens to work in meatpacking plants and construction. The justification for this relies on a presumed need to stuff minors into the economic gap caused by labor shortages nationwide.
Although minor workers may be a bandaid for the cracks in the dam of the United States’ looming labor crisis, working during adolescence has been proven to have negative or negligible effects on young people.
Despite claims from employers about the benefits of having a job, adolescents who work often spend less time with family and friends, and thus maintain strained relationships.
Working at a young age prevents children from performing well in school, ultimately restricting their upward mobility later in life.
These are consequences of a bygone era where minors worked in dangerous conditions for long hours with little pay.
Today, it is saddening to see the workplace regressing back into the commercial jungle that prevented the children of the 1900s from gaining access to academic and social opportunities.
By framing work as an individualized, ultimately beneficial collaborative experience outside of school hours, companies have managed to manufacture a generation insistent on jobs as an equal alternative to academic, sports and volunteer activities.
Yet this idea has been met by criticism from teachers and researchers alike as lower academic and social aptitude becomes increasingly associated with those who work part-time or full-time jobs while still in school.
It seems that the parents of American teenagers have been swindled into granting corporations access to their children’s time, energy and academic futures.
However, not everyone has a choice.

E for Everyone

During the Covid-19 pandemic, those affected by poverty felt the economic burden the most.
Families struggled with affording food, rent and medications, and minors were often the ones who took up extra responsibilities in order to support their families.
However, companies were quick to exploit this inexperienced workforce by lowering wages for underage workers and forcing dangerous responsibilities onto children.
Migrant populations are most likely to be exploited, as those without the proper documentation could be deported or arrested on a whim.
Most recently, more than 100 children were found working overnight shifts at Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI), a company which cleans slaughter houses and meatpacking plants.
Although action was taken against PSSI, many child laborers are working unregulated hours, in unsafe and unsanitary conditions inappropriate for their status as minors.
The movement towards deregulation has gutted the power of agencies to encourage change in these concerning job practices.
Ultimately, those feeling the consequences of bills like the Arkansas Youth Hiring Act of 2023 will be the youngest and those most vulnerable to exploitation by large corporations.
Children should not feel compelled to join the workforce, and yes, child labor is a bad thing.