top of page

Republicans support rights to exploit children

This month two on-line publications–Vox and The Guardian–have featured news of a long-time Republican push making advances in 10 state legislatures. Much of the reporting is based on a March 14 report from the Economic Policy Institute.

The topic? Child labor laws.

According to the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), it’s a matter of parental rights–parents, not government, should decide how and when a teen can work. A job acts to “free the individual from the trap of government dependence and let them experience the power of work.”

Ironically, one of the first changes was an end to an Arkansas requirement for parental permission before 14- and 15-year olds could work.

Today much of the push for child labor comes from businesses suffering a labor shortage. But the Cato Institute, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Commonwealth Foundation–all think tanks funded by Charles and David Koch–have long advocated younger persons working more hours for less pay. .

There are Federal regulations governing child labor, they don’t cover many employers–i.e., companies not involved in interstate commerce, not earning more than $500,000 annually, and not being public entities or health care facilities. And many states, like Arkansas, have passed their own regulations.

And Ohio simply advised the Federal government to change its laws to match the one they wrote to allow 14- and 15-year-olds work until 9 pm. (The current federal law is 7 pm during the school year and 9 pm in the summer.)

Bills extending working hours passed in Iowa, New Hampshire and New Jersey and were considered in Missouri. New Hampshire added that minors could work up to six hours before getting a break. (That’s a change in state law; the Federal law doesn’t mention breaks.)

Many bills lowering the working age focused on restaurants and child care centers whose employees moved to other jobs COVID-19 restrictions. A 2022 Iowa law allows child care centers to leave 16- and 17-year-olds in charge of school-age children without supervision. New Hampshire allows 14-year-olds to bus tables where alcohol is being served. Iowa has considered allowing 16-year-olds to serve alcohol, and Wisconsin, 14-year-olds.

A few states have considered allowing teens to do work previously considered too hazardous for them. Minnesota considered allowing 16- and 17-year olds to work on construction sites. Iowa’s HF 167 would have opened a range of jobs to teens as young as 14 –work in the coolers of meat processing plants, in laundries; and in the manufacture and storage of explosive devices.

Teens as young as 14 could have done nearly any task previously considered too hazardous if it was associated with a “work-related program approved by the Department of Workforce Development or the Department of Education.”

I suspect a provision granting employers immunity from civil liability for workplace injuries, including death, made legislators hesitate to pass the bill. It doesn’t fit with the idea the bill is about “parental control.”


When I first saw these articles, I thought they previewed what we could expect from our 2024 legislature.

Now, I wonder if Idaho already has lax child labor laws. Most of states changing their laws–e.g.,New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Minnesota–are not the poorer states of the U.S.A. Nebraska considered a subminimum wage for minors of $9.00 an hour. I believe Idaho still has a subminimum wage of $4.25 for teens during the first 90 days of work.

Now to learn more about the two Federal bills to deregulate child labor.


bottom of page