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U.S. government cracks down on child labor

SAT.| 4-29-23 | OPINION

     Child labor laws in the United States have been controversial lately as more states push toward lowering the minimum age requirements to work in specific industries. Despite its recent attention, child labor is not a new occurrence in the U.S.. Migrant children in the U.S. have been working for several years under the control of retail and manufacturing corporations, such as Walmart, Whole Foods and Target. While we do have laws to prevent this, there has been little effort in the past to actually enforce them. As a result of this lack of change, the Biden Administration has announced plans to “crack down” on child labor, which is certainly a step in the right direction.

     The most recent legislation towards promoting child labor includes a bill in Arkansas to make it easier to hire minors under the legal working age of 16. For example, states like Iowa and Minnesota have been pushing to allow 14 and 15-year-olds to work in meatpacking plants and many other 

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Graphic by Jordyn Godwin

dangerous jobs. Allowing children to work in these conditions puts them at risk of suffering from work-related injuries. According to the National Institute of Health, child labor accounts for roughly 200,000 injuries each year, and around 70 deaths. Not only is child labor dangerous, but it also discourages children from acquiring a proper education. Children who work full-time jobs rarely have time to study or complete homework, so it is difficult to devote themselves to education. In fact, roughly 55 percent of children involved in the labor force drop out of high school before obtaining a diploma.

     While many of these efforts to lower labor age requirements have already been shut down by the federal government, it doesn’t actually resolve the main problem of child labor in the U.S. The majority of children involved in the labor industry are immigrants who cross U.S. borders without their parents. These children are offered work by outside employment agencies who ignore their lack of social security information and fraudulent U.S. identification. Once these migrant children are working for the company, they are able to ignore fines and underpay them without anyone knowing. Even when these corporations do get caught, they shift the blame onto the agencies who employed these kids in the first place, so companies are rarely punished for utilizing child labor.

     To counteract this, the Biden Administration has devised a plan which will hold these companies accountable for breaking child labor laws. The U.S. Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services are planning to initiate thorough investigations against major corporations suspected of using child labor. Companies will be penalized for each infraction against child labor laws. While I think that this is a great plan for holding these businesses accountable, the current penalties for violating the child labor code are not strict enough to actually impact these companies. As of today, any organization that breaks child labor laws suffers a 15,000 dollar fine. Although this fine may seem like a lot, the people committing these infractions are billion-dollar companies, so it does not affect them in the long run.

     In my opinion, the best way to regulate child labor is to eliminate it altogether and place strict penalties on any corporation that violates these codes. Getting rid of child labor would definitely help kids who are a part of the American school system by encouraging them to stay in school and receive a proper education. In the short-term, immigrant children may be negatively impacted by limiting their ability to work and penalizing the companies that allow them to do so. But as a society, it is important that we promote education and discourage children from being pulled into the workforce as a sustainable way of living in our country. I fully believe that immigrants should be allowed to come to the U.S. and work or go to school, but it is crossing the line if we promote kids to leave their families to work in harsh factory conditions their whole life. The main punishment I suggest for discouraging corporations from using child workers is a graduated fine. The more instances of child labor found in one of these manufacturing plants, the higher the fine grows. If too many infractions are committed, it could result in the suspension of one of these plants, or the revocation of its business license.

     As more information is uncovered about the rise and current usage of child labor in the U.S., it is clear that this is a deep-rooted issue in our country with no easy solution. The industries using minors in their workforce have been finding loopholes in the child labor legislation for years now, and it is long overdue for us to finally crack down on this problem.

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