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Monday, April 9, 2012

Child Labor in America: History, Policy, and Legislative Issues

Gerald Mayer
Analyst in Labor Policy

The history of child labor in America is long and, in some cases, unsavory. It dates back to the founding of the United States. Historically, except for the privileged few, most children worked— either for their parents or for an outside employer. Through the years, however, child labor practices have changed. So have the benefits and risks associated with employment of children. In some respects, altered workplace technology has served to make work easier and less hazardous. At the same time, some processes and equipment have rendered the workplace more advanced and dangerous, especially for children and youth.

Child labor first became a federal legislative issue at least as far back as 1906 with the introduction of the Beveridge proposal for regulation of the types of work in which children might be engaged. Although the 1906 legislation was not adopted, it led to extended study of the conditions under which children were employed or allowed to work and to a series of legislative proposals—some approved, others defeated or overturned by the courts—culminating in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. The latter statute, amended periodically, remains the primary federal law dealing with the employment of children.

Generally speaking, work by young persons (under 18 years of age) in mines and factories is not allowed. The types of nonfarm work that may be suitable (or especially hazardous) for persons under 18 years of age has been left mainly to the discretion of the Secretary of Labor. Some types of work—for example, some newspaper sales and delivery, theatrical (and related) employment— are exempt from the FLSA child labor requirements. Finally, a distinction has been made between employment in nonagricultural occupations and in agricultural occupations and, in the latter case, between work for a parent and commercial employment.

This report examines the historical issue of child labor in America and summarizes various bills that have been introduced from the 108th to the 112th Congresses.

Date of Report: March 26, 2012
Number of Pages: 38
Order Number: RL31501
Price: $29.95

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