This paper explores the history of the formation and present condition of child labor laws in the United States. The author aims to justify the provisions of federal and state laws as well as to determine their relevance within the framework of modern labor legislation. The paper provides an analysis of such documents as the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act, Massachusetts Adoption of Children Act, and Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The stated regulations determine the prohibition of work for children less than 14 years old with several exceptions. The author notes the connection between child labor laws and state laws on compulsory education. He concludes that the programs aimed to reduce the child labor and increase school attendance rates must be developed with respect to the specific economic, legal and social situations of each state.
Legal consolidation of the special attitude of society to the younger generation is a trend inherent in many countries. In the context of laws protecting the rights of minors, child labor is defined as the work carried out by children. Nature and intensity of such work interfere with learning or harm kids’ health and development. The major concern, in this case, is fates of children deprived of childhood and future that from an early age work long hours in the conditions harmful to their health, physical and intellectual development. Such work may cause irreparable harm to children being contrary to international laws and usually national legislation of individual countries.
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Sometimes children themselves decide to start working because they know that their families desperately need additional income. In the labor market, there is a demand for child labor because children are usually obedient and humble. It is much easier to hire them at lower wages and fire when there is no need for the labor force. Employers consider cheap child labor as an important factor for the competitiveness of their businesses and products in national and international markets. In terms of employees’ rights, working children are completely unprotected. In most cases, employers hire kids for labor-intensive industries, which use outdated technology and monotonous work.
The research paper aims to study the history of development and current conditions of child labor laws in the United States at both federal and state levels and determine their justification in the context of today’s America.
At the times of establishment of the first colonies in the territory of the USA, the family was considered as its main production unit. The reason is that its survival was dependent on its ability to produce everything needed itself, instead of relying on others.
In the XIX-early XX century, in the USA, child labor was treated as a common thing. Due to the low wages paid to children, their exploitation in the workplace has brought high profits to entrepreneurs. There were many factories, employing only children. Thus, the kids worked voluntarily and with the consent of parents. In the past, they had no choice because of the constant need for additional money for bread. Working hands, even the smallest and weakest, had to feed themselves on their own.
Massachusetts Adoption of Children Act ordered the adopted kids to obey the parents by adoption. The author believes that this helped confirm unhindered use of forced or voluntary child labor, as even the law had emphasized the power of parents over their offspring.
December 18, 1865, came into force with the amendment ХІІІ to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery throughout the United States. The author believes that this factor also to some extent contributed to greater employment of minors. Youth voluntarily agreed to work to support themselves and help the family, as many men died during the Civil War or returned disabled.
Aiming to solve the problem of homelessness and vagrancy, there some houses of refuge initially only in certain cities and only for boys appeared. The first such house operated in New York in 1825; later the similar ones were organized in Boston and Philadelphia. As for homeless girls, they were living in private houses as maids. The main objective of building houses of refuge was the maintenance of boys who did not have parents or whose parents did not want or were unable to care for them. The education aimed to make youngsters rightful and hard-working members of society. Different workshops and stores operated at houses of refuge. Children made shoes and furniture, each working for 10-15 cents a day. This way the houses of refuge, as a result of sales of goods manufactured by kids, reimbursed the money spent on their maintenance. If boys did not produce as many products as required, the administration severely punished them.
In general, the use of child labor (voluntary and forced) was a quite common practice up to the beginning of a campaign for its abolition. Thus, in 1907, the U.S. Congress established the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), which carried out inspections in various industries. It was related primarily to industrial production on revealing the employment of children.
The first federal law regulating the employment of youngsters was the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act based on the proposal of Senator Albert J. Beveridge (1916). This short law (only seven articles) forbade the employment of children less than 14 years old in unloading operations, canning factories, workshops, and factories. It allowed employment of children aged 14 to 16, but not more than for 8 hours a day and six days a week. These restrictions had to be implemented as follows: the sale and export of any product manufactured, packed or transported by the work of persons under the age of 14 was banned.
In 1938, Congress adopted the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), regulating, among other issues, child labor (Whittaker, 2003, p. 3). The Act established a minimum wage and maximum working hours for children. Obviously, the document is being in a constant process of reconsideration adjusting to modern conditions.
Thus, for a long time in the U.S. and many other countries, which currently apply well-developed mechanisms to protect the rights of minors, child labor has not been prohibited.
Current Child Labor Laws
Federal and state legal frameworks serve as a basis for the regulation of child labor. They may have inconsistencies and overlaps, but they also have a common subject of regulation: young workers under the age of 18. The monitoring of observance of child labor laws is carried out by the Department of Labor and its agencies.
To date, the basic law governing labor relations in the United States, including child labor, is the Fair Labor Standards Act. It considers questions about the kinds of work, which child labor can involve.
Non-agricultural employment of children.
The FLSA establishes the age limit of 16 years for non-agricultural employment of children. However, the 14- and 15-year-olds also have a possibility to work in safe facilities established by law outside of school hours.
Children under the age of 14, regularly, are too young to be employed, but even for kids of this age, the Act provides a number of exceptions (newspaper delivery, performance in motion pictures, and theater productions, etc.). Already at the age of 14, children can work at certain approved workplaces (retail stores, offices, grocery stores, food services, amusement parks, and movie theaters) out of school hours.
Adolescents of 16 years and older can work at any time of the day, but the place of work, at the same time, should be safe for the health and welfare of a kid. All these restrictions are applied before the age of 18.
Agricultural employment of children.
Unlike the rules governing non-agricultural employment relations, not all types of child labor in agriculture are legally regulated. A child working on the farm of its parents is not subjected to federal law. The FLSA does not regulate agricultural employment of children aged 16 and more. In other cases, kids under the age of 14 or 15 years may be engaged in safe work outside of school hours. In order to perform certain unsafe working duties, according to the law, the minors have to be properly trained and certificated. Children under the age of 12 or 13 can work on a farm outside of school hours performing non-hazardous jobs. However, only on the farm, the work is possible with employing at least one of the parents or with the written consent of a parent. Kids aged 10 or 11 can be employed to harvest short-season crops outside of school hours in accordance with special waivers issued by the U.S. Department of Labor.
In addition to federal law, each state applies its own labor laws regarding the rights of children. These laws, which often overlap with the FLSA, differ in the level of protection provided to minors. If both laws are applicable to the same situation regarding child employment, more stringent standards shall govern. Federal law is generally more stringent than state laws concerning the prohibition of work in hazardous conditions.
According to Herman (2000), seventeen (primarily southern) states do not include the employment in agriculture within the scope of legislation on child labor. Eight states restrict employment in agriculture according to the standards of federal law; eight states reduce daily or weekly hours of work for youngsters under the age of 18 engaged in agriculture; twelve states provide more stringent age standards than federal regulations.
Analysis of state laws makes it possible to state that the lowest age limit, allowing child employment in agriculture, is fixed in Illinois (10 years outside school hours and 12 years during school hours). The highest age limit is established by the laws of Washington and Wisconsin (18 years during school hours).
The author believes that such differences are primarily determined by the infrastructure of the region. Given the fact that Illinois is a leading state in agricultural (corn, soybean, and wheat growing, and livestock) and agriculture-related (meat packing, feed milling, dairy manufacturing, and vegetable processing) industries, it seems expedient that child labor is required and allowed in the field of agriculture.
The author notes the fact that labor laws have to be considered in aggregate with other complementary regulations. State laws on compulsory education are directly related to child labor laws and commonly shape the latter one. Some scholars even believe that compulsory schooling, rather than the abolition of child labor, allows bringing up an intelligent and forward-looking nation with a progressive future.
The analysis of provisions of the federal law and state laws regulating child labor, as well as their historical development, has allowed determining a clear trend of the dramatic reduction of child labor. However, the author believes that not all work is harmful to minors. Many children from an early age help parents with the housework or work with adults on their own farm or in a family business. Thus, they obtain useful work skills and attitude to work, which will come in handy for them as future employees and members of society. Feasible work in the condition of permanent and careful monitoring can be an important part of the process of children’s socialization and development. The reason is that it teaches them to take responsibility and be proud of their achievements.
The author believes that the programs aimed to reduce the child labor and increase school attendance rates must be developed with respect to the specific situation of each state and encompass legal, economic and social policies. Child labor legislation is important as a means of setting minimum standards and raising awareness of the rights of children. However, such legislation will not be able to reduce the number of working children as long as there are persistent economic causes of child labor.