Our view: Children need to be in school, not working at stockyards


Will Groves, Opinion Editor

Children working in a factory, injured, covered in hazardous chemicals and exhausted from working an overnight shift plus overtime. This scenario sounds like something straight out of the Industrial Revolution—but it happened earlier this year.

   The U.S. Department of Labor released a report on Feb. 17 that showed over 100 children, ranging in age from 13-17, worked in meat-packing factories. Two of the factories belonged to Tyson Foods, the second-largest food processor in the U.S. These children had been working with hazardous chemicals and cleaning dangerous saws.

   The number of children involved in child labor has increased by 70% over the past five years, according to a DOL report. The DOL is too small of a department to enforce all of the changes they make to labor standards. The department is investigating over 600 cases of illegal child labor, but this is only a small portion of yearly U.S. incidents. The department’s size leaves the enforcement of child labor regulations up to the states, but they often shirk this important duty.

   Despite this report from the DOL, 10 states over the past two years have introduced legislation loosening restrictions on what jobs minors can work and how many hours a week they are allowed to work.

   Last month, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders passed the Youth Hiring Act, which removes labor restrictions for 14- and 15-year-old children. This law removes the requirement for an employment certificate, which requires both government and parental approval for the minor to work. Under this law, children aged 14 and 15 years could get a full-time job without their parent’s permission and government position.  

   In Iowa, state legislators are working to decrease the regulations on serving alcohol and working in construction and demolition work. This bill has not passed the Iowa legislature yet, but debate over the bill has been overwhelmingly positive from the state’s Republican legislators.

   Republicans seem to want parents involved in everything except their child’s workplace.

   This wave of legislation came from a right-wing solution to the worker shortage and a continued fight against unemployment. Instead of fixing the cause of the shortage, Republicans would rather expand the    working age and prey on an underprivileged and unrepresented age group.

   We at The News believe the solution to the worker shortage should not be employing children with little to no restrictions. It should be paying a liveable wage or fixing toxic work environments.

   Legislators reason that lessening restrictions can help children gain work experience. Minors should not be experiencing harsh working conditions and risk of injury at the expense of their childhood. The benefit of work experience should not outweigh the detrimental effect child labor has on children’s education or attention span in school and overall well-being.

   For a political party so focused on morals and protecting our children, exposing minors to liquor and harsh working conditions does not seem to fit their narrative.

   The main problem with these jobs is they just are not safe. The jobs these states are trying to fill are not safe jobs like those in the food industry or office jobs. They are in industries that could harm the children, like construction or manufacturing jobs. Our children deserve better than the conditions that currently exist within these fields.

   In addition to posing major health risks for the children involved, child labor has a negative effect on a child’s education, according to a National Library of Medicine study. Long and demanding overtime hours in a factory or manufacturing plant deplete children of their drive to learn and succeed in school and can harm their mental and physical health.

   Many issues and unsafe workplace environments will stem from this legislation, leaving children too exhausted to thrive in school. Labor violations will only get worse if this is allowed to continue. We need to move forward with our worker protections, not backward. Our children deserve more protection, and they should be able to enjoy their childhoods. Children yearn for educated minds—not the mines. 

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