The Problem of Antiquated State Child Labor Laws

Weak and inadequate state and federal child labor laws

Some states have not updated their child labor laws since the early 1900s. Most state laws and the federal child labor laws do not adequately reflect today’s workplaces and occupational hazards. One area in need of updating is the list of prohibited occupations for minors under the age of 18, which are deficient regarding exposure to chemicals, pesticides, and body fluids; work in heights; working alone in cash-based businesses; and others.

The most antiquated aspect of the federal child labor laws is the division of the employment of youth into two categories: agricultural and non-agricultural labor. The result is that minors working in agriculture are less protected from exploitation and more exposed to hazardous employment than minors in non-agricultural employment. Children working as hired farm workers may work at younger ages, work in more hazardous occupations at younger ages, and work for more hours than other employed youth. Estimates of youth farm workers run as high as 800,000 in the $25 billion dollar agriculture industry.

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