In late March, lawmakers in the US introduced a bipartisan bill that will raise penalties on employers who violate childlabor laws. This bill comes at a time where there are emerging federal investigations into companies that have utilized underage migrant labor.
Child labor violations are on the rise in meatpacking and manufacturing jobs. According to the Economy Policy Institute, the number of minors employed in violation of child labor laws has increased by 37% in the last year, and at least 10 states have introduced or passed legislation that laxes child labor protection. In Arkansas, former White House Press Secretary and now Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a law that “scraps the requirement” that 14 and 15 year olds obtaining work papers before getting a job.
The federal investigation into child labor penalties by several large corporations such as Cargill and Tysons. The EPI stated, “In February 2023 the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued new findings on an ongoing investigation of Packers Sanitation Services, Inc. (PSSI) for illegally employing over 100 children between the ages of 13 and 17 in hazardous occupations at 13 meatpacking facilities owned by JBS, Cargill, Tyson, and others (DOL 2023). These children worked illegally on overnight shifts cleaning razor-sharp saws and other high-risk equipment on slaughterhouse kill floors. At least three of them suffered injuries, including burns from caustic cleaning chemicals. The Department of Homeland Security has announced a parallel investigation into whether these young workers, many of whom may be unaccompanied migrant children, were connected to illegal employment by traffickers who profited from their labor (Strickler and Ainsley 2023).”
In February of this year, the US Department Labor fined Packers Sanitation Services, a cleaning contractor, $1.5 million. Child labor laws are meant to protect the rights of children. Many studies have shown that students who work 20 or more hours a week are more likely to drop out of school and have declining grades. The pandemic itself has impacted children immensely – the Los Angeles Times reports that eighth graders in every state across the country have seen significant drops in average testing scores.
It’s important to also understand in this conversation the reason why many children may seek jobs. Many teenagers use false IDs to start working, especially children who are coming from low-income families, where their earnings are used to provide for the household. As an intersectional issue, children should be given safety and priority – there should be adequate measures taken to provide for low-income families, in which parents and children both need to work in order to live in this country. The US has failed many of its families, with lack of healthcare and institutional disparity affecting those who ned institutional support the most.
In order to protect children, urge your local representatives to support any legislation that is aimed to protecting child labors, and specifically mentioned the need for protection of immigrant and undocumented children.