The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 banned the employment of kids younger than 16 in any occupation, or those younger than 18 in especially dangerous jobs. Now, in 2023, conservatives are doing everything they can to eliminate those protections. Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders has signed a bill that rolls back child labor protections.
The so-called “Youth Hiring Act” eliminates existing law that requires children under 16 to obtain an official employment certificate issued by the state’s Department of Labor. This certificate process is one of the only oversight mechanisms for child labor in the state, and verifies children’s actual age before letting them work.
The bill had passed both Republican-dominated chambers of the state legislature before Sanders signed it on Tuesday. The bill’s passage comes after Hannah Dreier’s shocking New York Times report revealing a “shadow work force” of migrant children “across industries in every state,” like 12-year-old roofers in Florida and Tennessee or 13-year-olds in Michigan making auto parts on an overnight shift that ends at 6:30 a.m, or in meat plants from Alabama to Minnesota.
The elimination of the basic accountability measure may make it easier for companies to exploit children for their labor and time. Laura Kellams, Northwest Arkansas Director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, told KNWA, a local station, that while she is not opposed to more kids gaining work experience, there is still a concern for their neglect.
“That paperwork is only [so that as] a parent we can ensure that a parent is aware that the child is getting the job and that the hours worked don’t violate child labor laws,” Kellams said. “For example, you can’t hire a young person under 16 to work like 6 p.m. to midnight at your restaurant. They have to be finished with work by seven and that’s all about making sure that they’re home and can go to bed in time to be able to learn the next day at school.”
Sanders’s loosening of child work protections follows the introduction of legislation in states from Iowa and Wisconsin, to Minnesota and New Hampshire all aiming to roll back child labor protections and allow companies to seep more time and work out of America’s youth.
During her response to the State of the Union—when she wasn’t pontificating on “critical race theory,” left-wing “rituals” and “woke fantasies,” or even just herself—Sanders shared her vision for what Republicans aim to do for America’s children. “Here in Arkansas and across America, Republicans are working to end the policy of trapping kids in failing schools and sentencing them to a lifetime of poverty,” she said.
It seems Republicans are working to implement policies that trap kids in meatpacking factories instead.