Albion Monitor /Features
 Project Censored: 1995 Story # 3

Child Labor in the U.S. is Worse Today Than During the 1930's

Every day, children across America are working in environments detrimental to their social and educational development, their health and even their lives.

In 1992, a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report found that 670 youths aged 16 to 17 were killed on the job from 1980 to 1989. A second NIOSH report found that more than 64,100 children went to the emergency room for work-related injuries in 1992. Seventy percent of these deaths and injuries involved violations of state labor laws and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the federal law which prohibits youths under 18 from working in hazardous occupations.

These numbers are a conservative estimate since even the best figures underestimate the number of working children by 25 to 30 percent. As of yet, there is no comprehensive national data collection system that accurately tracks the number of working youth, nor their occupation, where they work, or how many are injured or killed on the job.

Of the estimated five million youth in the work force, thousands are injured, even killed, because several barriers continue to prevent them from being adequately protected in the workplace.

A patchwork of inefficient data collection systems fail to monitor the total number, much less the well being, of youth in the workplace. Enforcement of the FLSA is lax. Cultural beliefs about the worth of work for children are strong. And, various PACs lobby successfully to keep child labor laws from being strengthened, and, in many cases, to weaken existing laws.

"Child labor today is at a point where violations are greater than at any point during the 1930s," said Jeffrey Newman of the National Child Labor Committee, an advocacy group founded in 1904.

Violations are occurring today on farms and businesses around the country. Farm owners beat the system by allowing their entire family, including the children, to work under one person's social security number or by hiring a farm contractor who, on the books, counts as only one employee (while the contractors then hire whomever they wish).

Businesses aren't worried about the child labor violations that they commit because the laws are rarely enforced. One report found that the average business could expect to be inspected once every 50 years or so. Inspectors spend only about five percent of their time looking into child labor problems.

Even when companies are inspected and violations are found, the maximum penalty of $10,000 per violation is rarely enforced.

Lobbying efforts by various business trade organizations are making congressional reform nearly impossible. In the nation's capital, money talks, and both the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI)(representing areas where many child labor violations occur), speak persuasively with their generous contributions to potential supporters of their agenda.

The restaurant industry alone has given $1.3 million to Republican candidates in recent years; House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been a favorite of both the NRA and the FMI. Since 1991, Gingrich has received more than $27,000 from both PACs.

Previous Story Next Story

SOURCE: SOUTHERN EXPOSURE, Fall/Winter 1995, "Working in Harm's Way," by Ron Nixon, pp 16-26.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor March 30, 1996 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to reproduce.

Front Page