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Kids could work longer, harder jobs to fill labor shortage

Minors could be allowed to serve alcohol, work later on school nights and perform more dangerous services if legislators in several states get their way.

Lawmakers in Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa are discussing addressing worker shortages by loosening child labor laws, according to the Associated Press. In Wisconsin, 14-year-old workers could be permitted to serve booze in hospitality establishments. In Ohio, students who work until 7 p.m. on school nights could tack an extra couple hours onto their shifts, challenging federal laws set in the 1930s.

New Jersey and New Hampshire have also reportedly moved to loosen child labor laws. It’s part of a trend documented in a March report published by the Economic Policy Institute that says at least 10 states over the past two years have proposed measures to expand the workload managed by young people. Those bills have been vetoed, withdrawn, and in some cases, passed.

Child Labor Coalition director Reid Maki told the AP loosening child labor restriction could be “disastrous.”

“You can’t balance a perceived labor shortage on the backs of teen workers,” he said.

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Efforts to roll back labor restrictions have largely been championed by Republican lawmakers like Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who eliminated permits requiring employers to verify workers’ ages. That could give companies violating child labor laws to argue plausible deniability. But Republican Rep. Rebecca Burkes’ defended that legislation passed in Arkansas.

“There’s no reason why anyone should have to get the government’s permission to get a job,” she said.

Factors driving a labor shortage are said to include deaths and illnesses from COVID-19, increase retirements and a decline in legal immigration.

Republicans reportedly pulled proposals that would’ve allowed 15-year-old workers to take mining, logging and meatpacking jobs, though some 14-year-olds can briefly work in freezers and pull later shifts on assembly lines.

According to Maki, teen workers are less likely to unionize or make demands. Vulnerable populations, including immigrants, are more vulnerable to exploitation, he said.

Child labor violations were up nearly 70% since 2018, the Department of Labor reported in February. A meat plant cleaning service was fined $1.5 million that same month after discovering it employed more than a hundred kids as young as 13 working in more than a dozen plants in eight states.

With News Wire Services

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