“Child labor” conjures up images of turn-of-the-century exploitation of children in sweatshops. In reality, no matter what the job or location, employing a child means cheap labor. Generally, it costs less for an employer to hire a young person than to hire an adult.
In 1988, the Department of Labor reported that 4 million youths under the age of 18 were working. These figures did not include minors who worked “off the books” or were paid “under the table” to avoid paying taxes. It did not include children in agriculture, undocumented workers in sweatshops, or those working in street trades. According to the United Farm Workers of America, 800,000 underage children work in migrant labor alone.
Hand-in-hand with the growing number of working minors, is an increasing concern among parents, educators, the medical community, and child advocates about youth employment. Questions regarding the appropriateness of stricter hour restrictions and concern over outdated hazardous occupations have arisen in response to the following trends:
- Changing demographics
- Lack of law enforcement
- Changing workplace and technology
- Rising injuries
We must work to ensure that education remains “our youth’s primary job.” Women’s League for Conservative Judaism urges:
- Dissemination of information to parents, teachers, employers, and youth about child labor laws and the rights and responsibilities of working youth.
- Support for legislation which:
- Increases restrictions on working hours and working age for youth.
- Increases Restrictions on youth in hazardous jobs
- Maintains one federal minimum wage law for all workers including youth.
- Requires work permits issued by schools to be conditioned upon the applicant’s school performance, job safety and adult supervision on the job.
- Exposing the exploitation of children in the specialized work areas now exempt from standard child labor laws. These would include work in the migratory agricultural field, family farms, and the entertainment industry.
- government funding and the spending of already approved government funds to inspect the workplace and to increase the number of compliance officers enforcing Federal and state labor laws.
- an increase in fines and penalties so that breaking the law by the employers is not longer profitable.
- Discouraging the importation of products from countries which employ child slave labor.
- Promoting education of children as the best way to escape poverty.