Many factors point to the fragility of our economic system, from massive layoffs to ever-rising inflation. But the fact that some Republican lawmakers want to party like it’s 1909 is a pretty big tornado siren. In Minnesota and Iowa, bills were introduced that would relax child labor laws and subsequently summon the spirit of Upton Sinclair from his grave.
A bill in Minnesota would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work in construction, a change from the law on the books that requires construction workers to be 18 and older. Another bill in the Gopher State—written by Rep. Joe McDonald (R) and Rep. Tim O'Driscoll (R)—wants to add 30 minutes to the amount of time a minor under 16 is allowed to work before school days.
In Iowa, Sen. Jason Schultz (R) introduced a bill that would allow kids as young as 14 to work in meatpacking plants. Those 15 and older would be allowed to take on duties that include assembly-line work if they receive a waiver from the labor commissioner. Schultz's bill would extend the hours children could legally work, but also would let companies off the hook in the event a child gets injured or killed on the job.
Of course, these bleak proposals have been met with some pushback. According to Radio Iowa, Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, took to task senators in favor of the bill during a testimony. “Do you remember the images of children in manufacturing and other dangerous work situations from the early 1900s?,” Ryan said. “There is a reason our society said that it is not appropriate for children to work in those conditions.”
Advocates of such laws say a worker shortage is why it is needed, but turning to children for this work, which can often be dangerous, seems very regressive. To echo Ryan’s sentiment, there’s a reason these laws were written in the first place. If businesses are concerned with the lack of adults willing to work for them, maybe they should consider what would make employment more attractive to people over the age of 18 rather than exploiting kids.
Once upon a time, Whitney Houston sang, “I believe the children are our future/Teach them well and let them lead the way.” This is definitely not what she meant.
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