Child Labor Abuse Continues to Rise

Laws that have been on the books for decades prohibit those 16 years old and under from working in hazardous jobs, or from working long hours which prevent them from getting enough sleep or going to school. With few exceptions, it is illegal for employers to hire children at all if they are 14 years old or younger. These laws vary from state to state but generally provide more protection for young people than the regulations enforced by the U.S. government.

Violations of child labor laws have increased by 88% since 2019 according to the U.S. Department of Labor, which acknowledges that it doesn’t have enough resources to fully enforce these laws or even identify all the violations. Some violations have only come to light because children working illegally have been maimed or killed by hazardous machinery.

Making matters worse, a number of states run by right-wing politicians are in the process of repealing or watering down the legal restrictions on child labor. Now, Florida allows bosses to compel young workers to work as many hours as the bosses require, with no upper limit. Indiana repealed all work-hour restrictions for 16- and 17-year-olds, who previously couldn’t work past 10 p.m. or before 6 a.m. on school days. The law also extends legal work hours for 14- and 15-year-olds.

Studies show that the food industry is the worst violator of child labor laws. This isn’t just fast-food corporations like McDonalds, but also meat-packing plants where workers are injured all the time.

Hazardous child labor was one of the widespread horrors of the early days of capitalism. Prohibitions against abusive child labor were one of the reforms achieved when workers figured out how to fight for their rights as a class. The growing attack on laws protecting children is just one more indicator that our future under capitalism will be truly bleak if we don’t figure out how to organize and fight for a society run by the workers instead of the capitalists.