Before the establishment of child labor laws in America, children were exploited by industries. Industries took advantage of them by having them do jobs that were dangerous while paying them very little. A corporation could easily pay a child less to do the job of a higher paid adult. During the Great Depression, Democrats enacted child labor laws so that businesses would have no choice to hire unemployed adults and pay them fair wages. This helped lower the unemployment rate and gave children the opportunity to be kids and go to school to prepare for future employment as adults. But child labor laws are under attack today by conservatives who want to hand big business a cheap labor force, destroy the minimum wage, eliminate labor unions, and weaken public education.
Newt Gingrich suggested eliminating child labor laws during his failed run to capture the Republican nomination for the Presidency. Now, his biggest supporter, Sarah Palin, is claiming that child labor laws are making America fail.
In a Facebook post titled “If I Wanted America to Fail, I’d Ban Kids From Farm Work,” Palin wrote,
“The Obama Administration is working on regulations that would prevent children from working on our own family farms. This is more overreach of the federal government with many negative consequences. And if you think the government’s new regs will stop at family farms, think again.”
Her post is in response to US Department of Labor’s plan to update the Fair Labor Standards Act to include the farming industry. For the first time, children would be protected on non-family owned farms. Working with pesticides, lumber mills, animals, manure pits, storage bins, and many other jobs that children are often employed to perform would be regulated. But Sarah Palin doesn’t think America needs to protect kids. She thinks child labor laws make America fail. The problem with Palin’s position is that it’s dangerous and threatens the lives of our kids. Industry has taken advantage of child workers before.
According to Eastern Illinois University, before child labor laws, children, some as young as three years old, “endured some of the harshest conditions. Workdays would often be 10 to 14 hours with minimal breaks during the shift. Factories employing children were often very dangerous places leading to injuries and even deaths. Machinery often ran so quickly that little fingers, arms and legs could easily get caught. Beyond the equipment, the environment was a threat to children as well as factories put out fumes and toxins. When inhaled by children these most certainly could result in illness, chronic conditions or disease. Beyond the topic of safety, children working lengthy hours had limited access to education. Many families relied on income earned by each family member and did not allow children to attend school at all. Those fortunate enough to be enrolled often attended only portions of a school day or only a few weeks at a time.”
Even children working on farms faced dangerous conditions, much like they do today. “Children working in rural areas were not faring much better. Harvesting crops in extreme temperatures for long hours was considered normal for these children. Work in agriculture was typically less regulated than factory duties. Farm work was often not considered dangerous or extraneous for children, even though they carried their weight and more in loads of produce and handled dangerous tools.”
Sarah Palin is accusing the government of wanting to regulate child labor on family farms but that’s not the case. The new regulations would be specifically for non-family owned farms and lumber mills. But her claim that child labor laws harm America is flat wrong. Child labor laws protect children from being exploited by profit driven businesses. If child labor laws didn’t exist, industry could undermine the minimum wage by paying children less than regular workers. Industry could also strangle labor unions. Children would have less time for school which means future generations of Americans will be significantly less prepared to compete for jobs in the global economy. Poor children would be especially at risk for exploitation. It would make us no better than the third world nations that make American products with child slave labor. This is the future Sarah Palin wants for America. And her agenda would definitely guarantee the failure of this country.