All those Republican efforts to “protect kids” apparently do not extend to addressing increasingly permissive child labor laws and unscrupulous companies who employ minors.
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Republicans, the self-proclaimed defenders of children, talk a lot about protecting kids from imaginary dangers: critical race theory, wokeness, and blood-drinking globalists. To be fair, the trafficking of kids, another item on the agenda, is a real problem. Unfortunately, the QAnon approach to addressing it does more harm than good. Conspicuously absent from that list is occupational safety.
Now, you may ask: occupational safety? How much of a problem could that be? They’re kids! That’s right, they’re kids, and this shouldn’t be an issue.
However, because there’s a concerted effort underway to weaken child labor laws in the US, it is.
Over the past two years, 10 states have introduced or passed laws that would make it easier for kids to work, increase the hazards they can be exposed to, lower age restrictions, and extend working hours.
And, as you may have guessed, most of them were introduced in red states, by Republicans, and with the backing of conservative industry groups.
Ultimately, these laws will put more children at greater risk.
Kids like Duvan Robert Tomas Perez, 16, who died in a Mississippi poultry plant last week while cleaning a machine, or Michael Schuls, 16, who was killed in June while trying to unjam a wood-stacking machine at a Wisconsin sawmill.
They should never have been in those positions, which is another part of the problem: Not only do states want to allow more children to work, but violations of existing child labor laws are on the rise as well.
According to an analysis of Department of Labor figures conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, the number of minors illegally employed in the US has nearly tripled in the past eight years. In addition, the number of minors illegally performing hazardous jobs has doubled during that same time.
And those are just the cases we know of. There likely are a multitude more that were never reported.
“This is not a 19th century problem — this is a today problem.” — Former Labor Secretary Marty Walsh
Earlier this year, the Biden administration announced some steps to address the issue. This came just days after The New York Times reported that unaccompanied migrant children are working dangerous jobs in record numbers.
To be fair, the administration is also not doing a lot about this apart from creating task forces and issuing some nice statements. For example, a follow-up investigation by the Times showed that warnings about the scope of the program were either missed or ignored.
But something is better than nothing.
“We see every day the scourge of child labor in this country, and we have a legal and a moral obligation to take every step in our power to prevent it. Too often, companies look the other way and claim that their staffing agency, or their subcontractor or supplier is responsible. Everyone has a responsibility here,” then Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said in February. “This is not a 19th century problem — this is a today problem. We need Congress to come to the table, we need states to come to the table. This is a problem that will take all of us to stop.”
To date, not a single Republican has signed on to these efforts.
But maybe they are too busy fighting those blood-drinking globalists.