Child Labor Violations Surge in the U.S. as Protections Weaken

Child Labor Violations Surge in the U.S. as Protections Weaken

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Child labor remains a significant issue in the United States, posing serious threats to the well-being and future of children.

Despite laws designed to protect young workers, violations are on the rise, and legislative efforts to strengthen protections face opposition.

Photo: Pexels
Child labor violations in the U.S. have surged by 88% since 2019.


The Alarming Rise in Violations

Child labor violations in the United States have surged in recent years. The Department of Labor (DOL) reported nearly 5,800 children working illegally in fiscal year 2023, an 88% increase since 2019. Civil penalties against employers exceeded $8 million, highlighting the severity of the issue. Despite these alarming figures, enforcement remains challenging due to underfunding and understaffing at the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division.


The Dangers Children Face

Children employed in hazardous conditions face significant risks. In 2023, several high-profile cases of child fatalities underscored the dangers. According to The Guardian, in June, 16-year-old William Hampton was killed while working at a recycling park in Missouri. That same month, Michael Schuls, also 16, died at a Wisconsin sawmill operating illegal machinery. 

The tragic deaths of young workers are not isolated events. In August, 16-year-old Duvan Thomas Perez was killed at a poultry plant in Mississippi, a job deemed hazardous for minors, reports The Guardian

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Nearly 5,800 minors were found working illegally last year.


Legislative Efforts and Opposition

Efforts to strengthen child labor protections have encountered significant political resistance. While some Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills to increase penalties and expand protections, these initiatives have seen limited bipartisan support. For instance, the Combating Child Labor Act and the Child Labor Prevention Act have struggled to gain traction. Conversely, there has been a push in several states to roll back existing child labor protections. A

rkansas and Iowa have enacted laws easing restrictions on work hours and conditions for minors. In Arkansas, legislation removed age verification requirements for employees under 16, raising concerns about potential exploitation, reports US News.

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Child labor laws are being weakened in several states.


Exploitation of Migrant Children

Migrant children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Unaccompanied minors, fleeing poverty and violence, often find themselves in precarious work situations.

The DOL uncovered systemic violations at Packers Sanitation Services, where over 100 minors, many unaccompanied migrants, were found working in hazardous conditions across multiple states, Economic Policy Institutes reports. These children, some as young as 13, were employed in dangerous jobs, cleaning razor-sharp saws and other high-risk equipment in slaughterhouses. The broken U.S. immigration system exacerbates these issues.

Many migrant children are caught in a legal limbo, unable to access social safety nets or secure lawful employment, making them easy targets for exploitation. Without comprehensive immigration reform, these young workers will continue to be at risk, the EPI reports.

Photo: Pexels
Recent fatalities highlight the dangers of child labor in hazardous jobs.


Advocacy and Enforcement

Despite the challenges, there are concerted efforts to combat child labor. The Biden administration has launched initiatives to enhance enforcement and protect young workers.

According to the Washington Post, a new interagency task force aims to address the exploitation of child labor by coordinating efforts across different government agencies. Additionally, the DOL has prioritized child labor in its investigations and increased outreach and education efforts to prevent violations. Advocacy groups are also playing a crucial role.

Organizations like Venceremos have been vocal about the need for better protections and accountability in industries known for child labor violations. These groups provide essential support to affected workers and lobby for legislative changes to safeguard young workers, The Guardian.


The Path Forward

Ending child labor in the United States requires a multifaceted approach. Stronger federal and state laws, coupled with rigorous enforcement, are crucial. Lawmakers must resist efforts to weaken protections and instead focus on measures that enhance safety and accountability. Immigration reform is also essential. Providing a clear path to citizenship and better support for migrant children can reduce their vulnerability to exploitation.

Ensuring that all children, regardless of their immigration status, have access to education and legal employment is vital for their future. Public awareness and advocacy are equally important. Consumers and communities must demand ethical practices from employers and support initiatives that protect children from labor exploitation.

The fight against child labor in the United States is far from over. With rising violations and ongoing legislative challenges, the need for action is urgent.

By strengthening laws, improving enforcement, and supporting vulnerable children, we can work towards a future where every child is safe, educated, and free from exploitation.

Click below to take action for children!

Matthew Russell

Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, spending time with his daughters, and coffee.

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