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‘Silly and dangerous’: US sees surge in efforts to weaken child labor regulations

youIn March, a bill was re-introduced in the US House of Representatives and Senate that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work in certain mechanized operations in the logging industry under parental supervision. . Timber industry groups have strongly supported the legislation. For Wendy Bostwick, the news was a nightmare.

Bostwick’s son, Cole, who had just turned 18, was killed in a logging accident in 2014 at a Washington job site where his father, Tim Bostwick, also worked.

“Obviously, that was a tragic situation, but someone who wants to go into logging can and should be supervised by their parents,” said Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, lead sponsor of the Future Forestry Careers Act, in an interview with the local Washington newspaper. paper the chronicle “If a boy is going to go into logging, what better way than for him to start with his family and have his family teach him?”

“Shit!” Bostwick told The Guardian. “It should open our eyes.

“One of the most dangerous jobs in the world and people want to leave their children there? Children of that age are not emotionally prepared for something like this. They don’t have the mental faculties to drink alcohol, but can they go out and make life and death decisions? I do not think. It’s silly and dangerous,” she said.

The logging bill is just one of several efforts in the US to roll back protections against child labor at a time when many employers are still struggling to fill jobs.

Backed by big business and lobby groups, politicians across the country are pushing efforts to extend working hours for minors, expand the industries in which minors are allowed to work, reduce law enforcement and legislate wages below the minimum for minors. These federal and state rollbacks are being proposed even as child labor violations have skyrocketed in recent years.

The logging industry is one of the most dangerous fields to work in the US and consistently leads with the highest job fatality rate in the nation.

“If this continues, there will be many more families like ours. It’s been almost nine years and we still live it every day. We have to be careful what music we listen to or what movies we watch, because it reminds us of Cole and the accident. We will never be right again. My whole family still has PTSD issues. My husband and I have been in and out of therapy ever since it happened,” Bostwick added.

“Losing an adult in the family is nothing compared to losing a child. Why, why, why would anyone want a child out there? There are many adults who also need those jobs.”

Against this legislative push, polls show an already alarming rise in child labor violations. The number of children employed in violation of child labor laws has increased by 37% in the past year and 283% since 2015, from 1,012 reported cases of children working in violation of child labor laws to 3,876 in 2022, according to a March 2023 report. Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report.

“I think what we’re seeing in terms of the state push right now should be seen as the latest push from multiple industries to really remove the regulation of child labor, not all at once, but that’s always the end goal of the various pushes. they’re all coming at the same time,” said Jennifer Sherer, senior state policy coordinator for the Economic Research and Analysis Network’s (Earn) Worker Power Project, and author of the EPI report.

The AFL-CIO labor federation’s 2023 Death on the Job report noted that 350 workers in the US under the age of 25 died on the job in 2021, including 24 workers under the age of 18.

Ten states have proposed or passed laws to roll back child labor protections in the past two years, including eight states so far in 2023.

Arkansas passed a law in 2023 to eliminate age verification and parental or guardian permission requirements.

In Iowa, a bill passed in 2022 to lower the minimum age for child care staff and lower the staff-to-child ratio. The state’s Republican-majority Senate also recently passed a broader bill that allows minors to work in hazardous occupations and extends permitted work hours.

“This is part of a national redefinition of childhood in the United States. It is pushing the children of Iowa back in time and it is really concerning, because I think it will take advantage of some of the most economically vulnerable children in Iowa and across the country,” said Democratic state Sen. Liz Bennett.

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New Jersey and New Hampshire also passed laws in 2022 to roll back protections against child labor. Missouri recently included an amendment to a House Bill (HB188) that would expand work hours for minors. Legislation has also been introduced to relax child labor laws in Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota.

In addition to the legislation cited in the report, Nina Mast, an economic analyst at Earn and a co-author of the EPI report, noted that bills have been introduced in Maine and Virginia to create a subminimum wage for workers ages 14 to 17. old. A bill was proposed in Georgia but failed this year to eliminate work permits for youth.

Emails obtained by the Washington Post revealed that much of the legislation aimed at rolling back child labor protections was written by the Foundation for Government Accountability, a Florida-based conservative think tank that promotes the freedoms of parents in defending the bills.

Business lobby groups are also pushing for change. “Could teens’ extra hours help restaurants with labor shortages?” asked the National Restaurant Association last year in a blog post calling on Congress to pass the Republican-backed Teens Gaining Skills Every Day (Teens) Act, which would remove restrictions on when and how long they can work teenagers.

The efforts, backed by business industry groups and conservative think tanks, often run counter to federal child labor law standards. In its report, the EPI argues that the goal is to challenge federal standards at the local level in order to weaken or eliminate federal wage and hour standards.

The drive to increase child labor is matched by a drive to undermine supervision, Sherer said. She noted that Iowa’s legislation to roll back child labor protections also includes language to relax enforcement of any child labor violations.

“I think the more immediate problem and consequences created by the state rollbacks is the message that it is sending, which in addition to already weak enforcement, is state officials telling the business community and workers that they are not going to enforce the laws. wage and hour laws or child labor,” Sherer said.

Democrats have proposed several federal bills to buck the trend, and the Department of Labor and Department of Health and Human Services have proposed policies to strengthen enforcement of child labor violations and increase monetary penalties for violations. Opponents of the bills argue that enforcement is already inadequate and that enforcement agencies are understaffed or underfunded to respond to rising child labor violations.

If these bills are not stopped, Sherer said, the long-term consequences for many children will be dire.

“There is really extensive research in the world of public health and education on why we have developed, over time, restrictions on work hours,” he said.

“Teens and high school students who approach or exceed the 20-hour-a-week mark of paid work during the school year end up in a higher-risk category, less likely to complete high school, less likely to be in a position to obtain post-secondary education or training, and that puts young people on the path to fewer job opportunities and lower lifetime earnings. It’s actually very important,” Sherer said. “Even those pushes to extend work hours are a really slippery and dangerous slope in terms of long-term economic outcomes for children and their families.”



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