Child labor laws are under attack in states across the country: Amid increasing child labor violations, lawmakers must act to strengthen standards

What this report finds: States across the country are attempting to weaken child labor protections, just as violations of these standards are rising. This report identifies bills weakening child labor standards in eight states that have been introduced or passed in the past two years alone. It provides background on child labor standards and the coordinated push to weaken them, discusses the context in which these laws are being changed, and explains the connection between child labor and the United States’ broken immigration system. It also provides data showing that declines in labor force participation among young adults reflect decisions to obtain more education in order to increase their long-term employability and earnings, and that nearly all youth currently seeking work report being able to find it.

Why it matters: Federal laws providing minimum protections for child labor were enacted nearly a century ago, leading many to assume that children working in grueling and/or dangerous jobs was a thing of the past. In fact, violations of child labor laws are on the rise, as are attempts by state lawmakers to weaken the standards that protect children in the workplace.

What lawmakers can do about it: This report provides policy recommendations for lawmakers at both the federal and state levels. At the federal level, Congress should heed calls to increase penalties for child labor violations and address chronic underfunding of agencies that enforce labor standards, eliminate occupational carve-outs that allow for weaker standards in agricultural employment, pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, and implement immigration reforms that curb the exploitation of unauthorized immigrants and unaccompanied migrant youth. At the state level, lawmakers should eliminate subminimum wages for youth and raise the minimum wage, eliminate the two-tiered system that fails to protect children from hazardous or excessive work in agriculture, strengthen labor standards enforcement, and empower young people to build and strengthen unions.