Child labor laws were enacted during the early 20th century’s labor movement in order to prevent minors from being injured and exploited in dangerous professions. The Trump administration thinks it’s time to change those laws.
The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was enacted as a means of protecting children from “oppressive child labor,” which is essentially defined as “the employment of youth under the age of 16 in any occupation or the employment of youth under 18 years old in hazardous occupations,” according to the Congressional Research Service.
While the Act contains some exceptions regarding the type of work done and parental involvement in the job in question, the Act generally prohibits children under the age of 18 from working in jobs considered hazardous for adults. However, President Trump is considering undoing certain parts of child labor laws in order for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to work dangerous jobs.
According to Bloomberg Law, the Trump administration wants to make it easier for employers to train and hire teenagers to work in professions like power-driven woodworking, meat processing, and even fighting forest fires. The administration’s argument in favor of changing child labor laws is that it could allow young people not planning on attending college to get training for higher-paying jobs:
Currently, 16- to 17-year-old apprentices and high school students in vocational programs can receive limited exemptions to perform work in some of the hazardous occupations. Those exemptions generally don’t exceed an hour a day.
The regulatory initiative, which hasn’t been previously announced, fits with the Trump administration’s broader goal of expanding earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship programs by replacing government red tape with industry-generated standards. It is also likely to have at least some bipartisan support from Democrats eager to create job opportunities for youth who aren’t on track to attend a four-year university.
However, if those child labor laws were allowed to be changed, it could potentially lead to higher numbers of young people being injured or maimed on the job, and could also lead to employers driving down wages and benefits for older, experienced workers due to an influx of new, unskilled young workers eager to have a job and in no position to bargain for better pay or benefits.
The U.S. Department of Labor will propose the changes to laws governing child labor before October.
Jake Shepherd is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Ohio. He enjoys poring through financial disclosure statements, spirited debate, and good scotch. He remains eternally optimistic about the Browns. Email him at jake.d.shepherd.21 (at) hotmail (dot) com.