Child Labor in the USA

Children spinningThe Nation

It is not allowed to happen in Russia, or in Kazakhstan—but in the United States, children as young as 12 are allowed to toil on tobacco farms, whether it’s driving Dad’s tractor or picking leaves for R.J. Reynolds. Tobacco farming poses threats to their health thanks to heavy pesticide use and the possibility of acute nicotine poisoning, as Gabriel Thompson vividly describes in his special investigative report in this issue.  

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 banned child labor in factories and mines, but racist Southern politicians ensured the existence of enough loopholes to keep black children working on the farm. Now it’s young migrants who often do those jobs. And as Mariya Strauss demonstrates in the second feature of our investigative report, it’s not just nicotine poisoning and heat exhaustion, but the hazards involving farm vehicles, grain silos and manure pits, that endanger these children. Exactly how many have been injured or killed is hard to determine because the government’s monitoring system is so weak.

The Labor Department seemed ready to address this problem during President Obama’s first term, proposing a variety of safety measures for young agricultural laborers—and an outright ban on children working on tobacco farms. But in 2012, after a furious and deceptive lobbying campaign by farm conglomerates, the Labor Department rescinded all of its proposed rules—at the request of the White House—and even vowed not to revisit the issue for the rest of Obama’s second term. Because of this reversal, which stunned public health advocates, at least four young workers have lost their lives, as Strauss documents here.

As Congress negotiates a five-year farm bill in the coming weeks, it should heed the calls for much tougher protections for child workers. The Children’s Act for Responsible Employment, introduced by Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard this year but blocked by the GOP-controlled Education and Workforce Committee, would bring child labor standards in agriculture in line with protections in other industries. Such measures face stiff industry opposition, which the Obama administration, to its shame, has proved unwilling to defy—but the exploitation of children, in the final telling, should be impossible to defend.

3 thoughts on “Child Labor in the USA

  1. I guess that “child labor” is really defined by the amount of money that the child makes. Look at Obama and our Representatives. Kids have never made as much as these children. Oh…that’s right…..”labor” is the key word here, and these little brats have not labored one day in their spoiled lives.

  2. I happen to have been one of the kids you’d label as ‘child labor’. It didn’t kill me to work in the fields. As a matter of fact I learned responsibility and pride in a job well done. Which doesn’t seem to be taught in the schools or in the home any more.

  3. The treasonous scum are legislatively getting ready to throw small farmers and family farmers in U.S. prison-for-profit gulags by arresting them for violating child labor laws and violating impossible food acts. Then the treasonous local government scum, sheriffs, British Accredited Registry DAs, and JustUs judges can assist the local banksters with confiscating their farmland through bankruptcy, at which point the treasonous scum can break up the land tracts and install unarmed Mexican and Chinese peasant farmers who when asked to bend over and kneel will simply ask, “How far, master?”

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