Child labor laws in the United States

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Child labor laws in the United States include numerous statutes and rules regulating the employment of minors. According to the United States Department of Labor, child labor laws affect those under the age of 12 in a variety of occupations.

Federal law[edit]

The main law regulating child labor in the United States is the Fair Labor Standards Act. In general, for non-agricultural jobs, children under 14 may not be employed, children between 14 and 16 may be employed in allowed occupations during limited hours, and children between 16 and 18 can be employed for unlimited hours in non-hazardous occupations.[1] A number of exceptions to these rules exist, such as for employment by parents, newspaper delivery, and child actors.[1] The regulations for agricultural employment are generally less strict, allowing children to work an unlimited number of hours on a farm and allowing them to do so during school hours if a parent or guardian works that same farm.[2] d

State laws[edit]

States also have laws covering youth employment. Where state law differs from federal law on child labor, the law with the more rigorous standard applies.[1]

History of children's labor for wages[edit]

"Addie Card, 12 years. Spinner in North Pormal [i.e., Pownal] Cotton Mill. Vt." by Lewis Hine, 1912 - 1913
Three spinners in spinning room, photograph by Lewis Hine

As the US industrialized, factory owners hired young workers for a variety of tasks. Especially in textile mills, children were often hired together with their parents. Many families in mill towns depended on the children's labor to make enough money for necessities.[3]

Activism against child labor[edit]

The National Child Labor Committee, an organization dedicated to the abolition of all child labor, was formed in 1904. By publishing information on the lives and working conditions of young workers, it helped to mobilize popular support for state-level child labor laws. These laws were often paired with compulsory education laws which were designed to keep children in school and out of the paid labor market until a specified age (usually 12, 14, or 16 years.)

In 1916, the NCLC and the National Consumers League successfully pressured the US Congress to pass the Keating–Owen Act, which was signed into law by president Woodrow Wilson. It was the first federal child labor law. However, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law two years later in Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918), declaring that the law violated the Commerce Clause by regulating intrastate commerce. In 1924, Congress attempted to pass a constitutional amendment that would authorize a national child labor law. This measure was blocked, and the bill was eventually dropped.

It took the Great Depression to end child labor nationwide; adults had become so desperate for jobs that they would work for the same wage as children.[4] In 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which, among other things, placed limits on many forms of child labor. However, The 1938 labor law giving protections to working children excludes agriculture. As a result approximately 500,000 children pick almost a quarter of the food currently produced in the United States.[5]

In 1994 the Arkansas state Federation of Labor placed a child welfare initiative on the ballot prohibiting child labor, which the voters passed.[6]

Human rights organizations have documented child labor in USA. According to a 2009 petition by Human Rights Watch: "Hundreds of thousands of children are employed as farm workers in the United States, often working 10 or more hours a day. They are often exposed to dangerous pesticides, experience high rates of injury, and suffer fatalities at five times the rate of other working youth. Their long hours contribute to alarming drop-out rates. Government statistics show that barely half ever finish high school. According to the National Safety Council, agriculture is the second most dangerous occupation in the United States. However, current US child labor laws allow child farm workers to work longer hours, at younger ages, and under more hazardous conditions than other working youths. While children in other sectors must be 12 to be employed and cannot work more than 3 hours on a school day, in agriculture, children can work at age 12 for unlimited hours before and after school."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Child Labor Provision for Nonagricultural Occupations Under the Fair Labor Standards Act". U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. July 2010. Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  2. ^ "Child Labor Requirements In Agricultural Occupations Under the Fair Labor Standards Act". U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. June 2007. Retrieved 17 May 2014. 
  3. ^ Cathy L. McHugh (1960), Mill family: the labor system in the Southern cotton textile industry, 1880-1915, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-504299-9, 0195042999 ; Jacquelyn Dowd Hall (November 1989), Like a Family: the making of a Southern cotton mill world, W W Norton & Co Inc, ISBN 978-0-393-30619-4, 0393306194 
  4. ^ Staff (2009). "Child Labor". Retrieved November 19, 2014. 
  5. ^ York, Helene (Mar 26, 2012). "Do Children Harvest Your Food?". 
  6. ^ Jennie Bowser (2012-09-20). "Ballot Measures Database". Retrieved 2013-01-24. 

External links[edit]