Child Labor’s Terrifying and Reprehensible Comeback

Date:

Child Labor's Terrifying and Reprehensible Comeback

  • News by AUN News correspondent
  • Saturday, March 11, 2023
  • AUN News – ISSN: 2949-8090

Summary:

  • In theory, there have been federal rules against child labour since 1938.

  • The scandalous resurgence of child labour affects a sizable portion of corporate America and the political system.

  • The ACLU has put forth a comprehensive plan to address the issue of child labour, which includes paving the way for citizenship, facilitating family reunions, and increasing the accessibility of legal representation for child labourers.

  • The White House promises to enforce current rules to reduce child labour.

  • Senate Democrats, led by Dick Durbin, are pushing for new legislation that would criminalise child labour companies and require sponsors of migrant children to undergo more thorough background checks.

The perplexing aspect of the twenty-first century is that despite the passage of time on the calendar, the social and political reality is regressing. Evils once believed to have been extinguished are making a violent comeback. We are currently experiencing a resurgence of authoritarianism and Great Power imperial war rather than the global spreading system of liberal democracy that Francis Fukuyama predicted the “end of history” would bring. Measles, mumps, whooping cough, and chicken pox have returned in the U.S. and other nations due to anti-vaxxers. The progress made in health over the past century is now in jeopardy due to a failing global health system that is more susceptible to pandemics. There is now more income inequality than during the time of the robber barons like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie more than a century ago due to the rollback of social democracy that started with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

Child labour must now be included on this list of atrocities that keep coming back. “Migrant children, who have been coming to the United States in record numbers without their parents, are ending up in some of the most punishing occupations in the country,” writes journalist Hannah Dreier in a detailed study that was published by The New York Times last month.

Every state has a shadow workforce that works across industries and infractions of child labour laws that date back over a century. Roofers in Florida and Tennessee who are 12 years old. Underage slaughterhouse employees in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Delaware. Youngsters in South Dakota are working nighttime shifts cutting slabs of wood.

Carolina Yoc, a 15-year-old immigrant from Guatemala who works at a food processing facility in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is the subject of Dreier’s story. Like many others, Carolina departed her country due to extreme poverty, which has worsened since the Covid outbreak.

Decades-old, bipartisan legislative decisions made Carolina’s transformation from rural poverty to manufacturing exploitation possible. Against the backdrop of numerous unsuccessful attempts at immigration reform, many American businesses have grown to rely on the low-cost labour that immigrants offer, regardless of their legal status.

Parents typically immigrate abroad and transfer money to their families upon their return. Yet, since the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act was passed in 2008, the U.S. government has established a skewed incentive structure that makes it simpler for kids to enter than adults. This issue was made worse by the Trump administration’s child separation policy. The Biden administration did not want the undesirable perception of having children in cages but was hesitant to address the reality of child separation. Hence, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under Biden opted for a practice of hastily and negligently transferring minor migrants to sponsors. The current labour crisis, which has been somewhat exacerbated by the Trump administration’s tightening of immigration restrictions, and this easy-release policy have generated the supply and market for child labour.

In theory, there have been federal rules against child labour since 1938. Nonetheless, these rules frequently go unenforced due to the weakening of labour unions and the neoliberal evisceration of the government’s regulatory ability.

As a result, the United States is currently seeing events reminiscent of the societal degradation that Victorian and Gilded Age chroniclers like Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Jacob Riis, Stephen Crane, and Upton Sinclair documented in their books. According to Dreier, “Underage labourers in Grand Rapids reported that lugging heavy pallets of cereal all night caused their backs to hurt and that breathing in spicy dust from enormous amounts of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos made their lungs itch. Conveyor belts are classified by federal law as being so dangerous that no child Carolina’s age is allowed to work with them. Therefore, they were concerned about their hands getting entangled in them.

You attend a high school where, according to Dreier, one of her professors gives a lecture on “the journalist Jacob Riis and the Progressive Era movement that helped develop federal child labour regulations” when she isn’t putting her life in danger to ensure that bags of Cheetos reach their destination. Carolina and her classmates, many of whom also work the night shift, are too exhausted to recognise the irony.

The scandalous resurgence of child labour affects a sizable portion of corporate America and the political system. Ford, General Motors, J. Crew, Ben & Jerry’s, Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, and Fruit of the Loom are just a few companies identified in the New York Times article as using child labour, frequently with the convincing denial offered by a contractor.

One straightforward strategy would be to relax immigration restrictions so adults from Central America could enter and essentially take over the work currently performed by their children, as cogently noted by Eric Levitz in New York magazine.

If the United States increases immigration prospects for foreign workers, both our labour shortfall and the economic difficulties facing Central Americans should improve at the same time. After all, there is no “skills” mismatch between Central Americans needing employment and positions available in the United States. Most undemanding jobs in the U.S. are in industries with minimal educational requirements. More delivery drivers, construction workers, and cooks are needed in the United States. There are a lot of people in Central America that are interested in and capable of filling those responsibilities. Rarely are “win-win” policymaking opportunities so obvious.

The ACLU has put forth a comprehensive plan to address the issue of child labour, which includes paving the way for citizenship, facilitating family reunions, and increasing the accessibility of legal representation for child labourers.

Such logical solutions are sadly not possible given the GOP’s predisposition for racist demagoguery on immigration—and the Democratic Party’s weakness.

At least the New York Times piece appears to have appropriately shamed the Biden administration. The White House promises to enforce current rules to reduce child labour. Senate Democrats, led by Dick Durbin, are pushing for new legislation that would criminalise child labour companies and require sponsors of migrant children to undergo more thorough background checks.

Although there is a movement to make it simpler for kids to work, the labour deficit still exists. According to a report from CNN on Wednesday, Republican governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas “signed a bill into law this week that rolled back several child labour protections across the state, including a measure requiring employers to obtain work certificates for children under the age of 16.” Sanders is following in the states’ footsteps. As of February 11, The Washington Post reported

Lawmakers in Iowa and Minnesota presented proposals in January to relax age restrictions and worker safety measures under the child labour laws in some of the nation’s riskiest workplaces. A step in Minnesota would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work in the construction industry. The Iowa law would permit 14 and 15-year-olds to do specific tasks in meatpacking facilities.

Fundamentally, American businesses need immigrant labour badly, but the political system is unwilling to provide many of them with legal statuses (especially if they are poor and from Central America). The conflict between political aspiration and economic necessity has created a shambolic society where child labour is encouraged. Only through a mix of muckraking journalism, political campaigning, and labour organising did the preceding period of child labour end. It is still the only solution.

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