New Child Labor Law Proposals: Benefit or Hinderance?

The United States Department of Labor has proposed an update to child labor regulations.  These regulations are allegedly targeted at improving the safety of young folks working in the area of agriculture.  Are these proposals a step forward for child labor regulations?  Or do these proposals meddle too much with parent and child rights to choose as individuals?

The typical gut reaction to anything having to do with child labor laws is that these laws must be a good thing because forced child labor is bad.  After all, weren’t child labor laws established more than a century ago?

But these proposed laws have nothing to do with preventing the use of force of child labor.  Rather, these proposed laws have to do with preventing (young) workers from doing certain jobs because they may be to seen as too risky or too dangerous.

Updates to the Law
From the Department of Labor website, here is a list of some of the proposed child labor law updates:

  • Strengthening current child labor prohibitions regarding agricultural work with animals in timber operations, manure pits, storage bins and pesticide handling.
  • Prohibiting hired farm workers under the age of 16 from employment in the cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco.
  • Prohibiting youth in both agricultural and nonagricultural employment from using electronic devices, including communication devices, while operating power-driven equipment.
  • Prohibiting hired farm workers under the age of 16 from operating almost all power-driven equipment. A similar prohibition has existed as part of the nonagricultural child labor provisions for more than 50 years. A limited exemption would permit some student-learners to operate certain farm implements and tractors (when equipped with proper rollover protection structures and seat belts) under specified conditions.
  • Preventing children under 18 years of age from being employed in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm-product raw materials. Prohibited places of employment would include country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.

Whose Risk, Whose Choice?
The proposed law appears to be about risk and choice in work.  It stipulates that children cannot work in a certain agriculture work because of the inherent risk associated with it.  In essence, the state is making the choice for parents and their children, of not taking risky work in order to protect children from harm.

However, some may argue that it should be parents making the choice for or with their children, rather than a law that says children cannot work. Some jobs have more risk than others.  And that risk may be even more true for in agriculture.  However, if both the parent and the child are aware of the risk, and the child is willing to take on the work of their own volition, shouldn’t the child be allowed to work?  No one is forcing the child to work.  The only exemptions allowed under the current and proposed law are for children of farmers.  But why not allow a child of a non-farmer to work in the came capacity, if both a willing individuals?

Also, what of the case where a child has no parent, or where a parent is “not suited” to be a parent.  Who makes the decision then?  Some would say the state should step in to make the decision for or with the child.  But just like in other situations where a parent is not “parent”, the decision of risky agricultural work would fall on the legal guardian and the child, in a similar manner as if the legal guardian were the parent.

On a side note, aren’t these laws a form of ageism, i.e. targeting individuals because of age rather than intellect, ability, or capacity?  In the case of the new labor laws, the young are prohibited to work in certain agricultural fields not because of there skill (or lack thereof), but because of their young age.  Targeting safety is one thing, but targeting safety laws on the basis of age is another.

To Implement New Child Labor Laws or Not
If you are interested in commenting to the Department of Labor on these issues, the deadline to submit has been extended until December 1, 2011.

So, what do you think?  Do these proposed laws protect the young?  Do the laws overprotect the young?  Or are these proposed laws not only burdensome, but prejudice against the young?

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.

31 responses

  1. The point of child labor protections is that children *don’t* have free will– they are influenced (mentally and physically) by their parents and other adult authorities. That influence is for their safety when it comes to crossing the street and eating your vegetables, but it’s extremely problematic if those authority figures don’t have their best interests in mind.

    Like… if they want to make a buck by taking advantage of those tiny fingers and how well they can fit into machinery.

    A parent in extreme poverty might be tempted to put a child to work in order to support the family. It’s up to the state to make that illegal to protect the rights of that individual child over the rights of the family.

    By your argument, child prostitution is totally cool because children can just leave if they don’t like it.

    1. In terms of free will, I think the decision should be left to the parent/guardian for and/or with the child.

      There are some extreme cases worthy deeper debate. But my main focus is on children (teens) who are being restricted to work but want to work of their own volition.

    2. Firs of all, prostitution is illegial and that’s not what we are tlakig aobut.

      I grew up on a farm and did pretty much everything that that “law” dosen”t want kids to do.

      I guress the new generation of parents like Jen would prefer for the kids to sit in front of a TV, eat junk food, get fat,out of shapr and die at 15 years oldl with no work ethics.

      I guess they can also forget those 4-Wheelers that they sale for off  roading….. More dangerious that work.

      1.  I can’t much say that I agree with some of the stereo typing being flung around.  I don’t think anybody wants kids sitting like zombies in front of the tv or video games, or eating junk food.  However the statement in the article that “However, if both the parent and the child are aware of the risk, and the
        child is willing to take on the work of their own volition, shouldn’t
        the child be allowed to work?  No one is forcing the child to work.”  sounds unrealistic.  There are lots of ways to manipulate kids.  However the best statement you made was about the 4-wheelers.  When I see 5 and 6 year olds driving these things I have to wonder about their parents.  These kids are poster children for some form of regulation.  Hopefully some sort of compromise will be reached with the regulations.   I would think 4 H programs and educational programs allowing young people to participate on the family farm would be a good thing and can weigh in on this issue. 

  2. This society has fallen to wayside partly because of lazy kids with little to no work ethic. I was raised in the mid-west, South Dakota, where working for parent or grand parent was normal. I took pride in my ability to contribute to the success of my family farm. These years are where the roots of my work ethic stem. The self righteous liberals who want everything for free could benefit from a little hard labor. Where do you thing the meat for your burger comes from? Or the soy to make the “vegan” burger? By not allowing kids to learn the agriculture trade there will be no farmers/ranchers in our future. Where will our food come from then? Commercial farms that use hormones and all corn fed beef? That will be the next complaint. City people need to but out of what they do know know.

    1. Lesley, I agree with you 110%! If more kids were allowed to work on farms and ranches maybe we’d have fewer people that blindly follow cults like PETA and HSUS that are trying to condemn our way of life and mold us to fit their “perfect” society that no longer includes any animals of any kind!

    2.  good point i mean if people don’t wont kids to get fat then hard work is good for them i may only be 15 but i have lived on my farm my hole life i bail hay do chores but have to go to school were we do nothing but sit around all day with no gym or time to wake in’y were but to our next class so if this law passes what am i spost to do sit on my ass and play video games it ant right and you wonder why we get fat

      1. I agree with you thonas. Am a lot older than you, but I too grew up on a  farm and the “work ethics” I learned from y parents help me thru my entire life. I was tought to achieve someting, you had to put work into it, and wwe had no “fat” kids then, and  for a 15 year old, you’re much smart that  “90% of teh politicians.

        If htis lawl passes, it the down fall for you and the rest of the young kids.

  3. Here’s another thing to think about: most of us never forget the lessons we learned from having a “close call”. I agree whole heartedly we should protect our children. However, there are so many different scenarios that I believe it should be the parent’s responsibility to protect their children. If children are prohibited from working in somewhat risky situations, they will never experience that “close call” which they could learn so much from, and ultimately help with their own sense of responsibility.

    1. Leslie, Carol, and Katie: Thank you for your comments. Many times child labor gets associated or even equated with slave labor, which it is not. Granted, “child labor” has a negative connotation to it, but as long as the child is willing to do the work, take the risk upon themselves, and learn from there “labor”, “child labor” can be a positive thing.

  4. I personally believe that people who did grow up in rural america do not know what it is like to put in an honest day worth of work. It is something special about my childhood that I do not regret. Driving a four wheel drive tractor when I was 12 is one of the greatest experiences of my life. I am disappointed in our government for trying to limit this. Sorry for not wanting to be a freeloader my entire life. Its better to get out and work than to sit back and wait for a welfare check to come in.

  5. We have a small family farm. Our two daughters were born and raised here. We raise cattle and our kids have always been actively involved. They learned about life and death at an early age and that even with hard work sometimes things don’t turn out like you want them to, but you hang in there any way.In my opinion it’s just more regulations that are taking our country down the wrong road. Our girls have a work ethic, something that you don’t see a lot in young people any more. They learned that before you think of going out and having fun chores need to be done and responsibilities need to be met. They turned out to be beautiful, caring, hard working young adults that were always respectful. Our gift to the world.

  6. I am senior in high school and have had 3 jobs since the time i was 11. It has instilled a good work ethic in me and I would hate to see these laws passes. I am from a small town of about 18 were not working for you parents on the ranch or not even having a job lables you as lazy. I love hard work and yes i want to get paid for it. Some of it is dangerous but that is wat makes kids tougher. If these laws passed my whole town would be out of work, because parents high other parents kids to come help or thats all that that parent has, is their kid to help them get the job done. These laws are ridiculous and the people who think that these laws are good have obviously not lived the lives of the people that they are trying to change.

  7. Do these people no realize that if these laws are passes that will take away virtually everyone’s SAE for FFA! Some of these things are just flat out ridiculous!

  8. At the current rate of the liberals telling us what our children can and can not do. Our childs work ethics will be worthless when they get older. Plays well into the hands of the liberals to have everyone dependent on the government to support them with welfare. Sorry, but to much government is ruining this once great nation of ours and ruining our children. With the current laws the way they are my own 17 year old son has very limited work options. Sorry working at a fast food joint or carrying out groceries at the local store in not his cup of tea. He wants something a little more physically and mentally challenging. I would love for him to come and work where I work, but do to the laws he can not. Oh, he can, but not allowed to do anything that would be required of him. Simple jobs like mowing the lawn, weed trimming and power washing equipment he can not do. What kind of bull shit is that. Kids who want to work can’t because the laws state they can’t. My son wants to make his own money, so he can do what he wants with it and become a little less dependent on his parents. I respect him for that and appreciate it that he wants to do that. Well government is ruining our childrens work ethics completely! Well that is my 2 cents!

  9. I am a freshman in high school. i live and work on a farm. always and always will. i am proud of the people who are famous today because of the good work ethic they learned on THE FARM. i feel the new law would ruin our culture and make us a totally different place. our country was built on agriculture and has since then grown to encompase many more forms of ag than just the farm. working on the farm along side my dad and big brother has brought a completly different persective on my life. from standing in a bare field in the spring, putting in the hard work and the dedication, then watching as the product is counted at the feed mill; it all puts the feeling of “i did this. with my own hands” in a person. and i think this is by far the best thing a person can have

  10. im from rural Wisconsin im 17 and have worked on the same farm since i was 10 i did more at 11 than some adults could do. i believe that age is just a number and it should be up to the owner of the farm and the parents. if they dont think a kid is ready for the responsibility that comes with farming that just say no.

  11. Here in the Empire State you have to have a license to spray fertilizer and most kids I know that are 17 that live on small farms such as I do sure don’t have one. Farms wouldn’t even allow a teen to work in a manure pit. People don’t understand the benefit of having agriculture for young teens to explore. How are  the farmers of this generation going to keep feeding the world if there is no one new to teach the trade because they where not allowed to be exposed to farms in there younger teen years.
    Kids work so they can get away from home and be their own person kids will shut down and become slugs if they do not have the chance to go and do physical labor with out having to have their parents watch them. Kids need to have a sense of purpose and some young teens find that with working with cows and such animals

  12. I believe this is not a good law.  It has no meaning to it, how are you suppose to work hard,take responsibility, learn from your mistakes if you never work!!? There is also no future for food if we have no youth coming up to take on jobs?! 

  13. I am from South Texas and I am a proud member of FFA, 4h, and I have grown up my whole life working on our family farm. I am only 16 but, not dumb. If this law passes what will happen to the multi generational small family farms, who will farm your land next? I also show cattle and pigs at majors, county, jack pot, and progress shows. Showing and raising animals has taught me my most important lessons in life, not playing sports. Agriculture is the most important thing in life to me at my young age, if this law passes I do not know what is ahead for me in my future. If this law passes it will also draw more people into the cult of HSUS and PETA. What people sadly fail to realize is that those who fall for the gimmecks from the HSUS and PETA commericials on t.v. is that their money that they are giving to those organizations is not going to the sad little animals on the screen. Their money is funding these organizations to protest against farmers and the killing of animals and to craftly write bills like this one above. These people fail to realize that farming and killing livestock is a way of life and it is how we provide for out families. They also fail to realize that we do not mistreat animals if anything show animals are treated like royalty. This craftly written bill cannot pass, it is unrealistic and can destroy those that own and opperate family farms.

  14. Im reading all the points,and one thing people are not notecing, this isnt an all or nothing deal, i was raised in the city, but was part of ffa in middle school, and I think agriculture is fine to learn and let kids work on a farm, just let them do age appropriate jobs, nothing wrong with a 8-9 year old cleaning the stalls, milking the cow, collecting eggs, as the child gets older he is given more responceability, this way he learns as he grows, which if im mistaken it how alot of farmers children were raised, first time you mowed a lawn your father stood behnd you and assisted you, once he felt comfortable you could handle it he let you solo, and as you matured he stoped watching you, same thing. if you notice alot of the laws coincide with regular laws you cant operate a car untill 16,same for the larger equipment, lawn mower tractor, maybe not so much but a thrasher or the larger machines,plus how many farmers would adopt children only to have help on the farm, slave labor, and work them to the point of exhaustion, and risk thier lives unneccarly, keep th new regulations, but hadd stipulations, make it like an apprenticeship,then journeymen etc, like they used to do

  15. No FFA or 4h, THAT WOULD BE TERRiBLE, what would kids do in the summer? We dont all live in the burbs. I love working with my cows, dont take that away from me!!!!

  16.  child labor is slave labor if the child is being forced to work and not being paid for their labor.
    children belong in school not in fields under the hot sun, no potable water or toilets being provided, full of pesticides, poisonous snakes, and dangerous equipment. 

    1. Child labor is slave labor?? Is making your kid make his/her bed “slave labor” too? Where is the line drwn? I don’t think your paying them to do clean their room, or do their laundry, or eat their vegetables when you tell them to, are you? Besides that, Ever heard of that which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger? The sun won’t KILL anyone, what’s the big deal with no toliets (how do you think people lived in the old days), and you rarley ever hear of a child getting bitten by poisoness snakes while doing farmwork. Honestly, I don’t think those who work on farms really have any problem with what they do. I dare to say a majority of them accually like their way of life, and who’s to tell them they have to live it differently? Obviously the one’s who are all gung-ho for this new law have never lived on a farm. I feel government’s main goal is this proposal is to sissify America starting with it’s youth.

  17. These new laws are tearing athe agriculture industry apart. I am a senior in high school and i have worked on my families farm since i was ten. I believe that more kids should be alowed to work on farms, it shows them what hardwork really is. It really makes me sad to hear about all these laws aginst agriculture. Soon they’ll try to take ag out of our schools

  18. this new labor law will force me to quit growing hay because it won’t be cost effective to pay an adult to pick up bales in the field and stack the hay into the hay barn.  Teenage boys have always made a buck or two, in my rural town, stacking hay for the poor small farm owners.

  19. This is so sad to see that our goverment thinks they can protect our children more then we can. By passing a law like this we are limiting the ability for a parent and a child to have free choice. We all were created with a mind and an ability to think for ourselves. Parents who bring up their children on farms have an advantage of teaching them so much more then they can learn in just a classroom. The time they give to their children in teaching them how to farm and then giving them jobs to do will be something, I’m sure most will say , has been a rewarding experience. I don’t live on a farm but we have had our children do things , like cutting wood for our woodburning stove with proper supervision and teaching, since they where very young. The things and risks that we let our children have in life make them what they are today. This law has nothing to do with the safety of our children, but has to do with goverment control of ou lives. 

  20. why do they even think of this law very stupid and no kids could do 4-h or FFA. this would destroy the education of our future farmers and many other ag. related jobs in the United States.

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