A number of jurisdictions are considering legislation that would permit young people to serve alcohol in bars and restaurants as early as 14 years old, work longer hours on school nights, and in more risky jobs. Republican legislators are generally in charge of the initiatives to dramatically relax labor laws in order to address the labor shortage, even though they occasionally violate federal laws.
Child welfare activists are concerned that the changes are part of a coordinated effort to weaken the hard-won safeguards for children. Reid Maki, the director of the Child work Coalition, which campaigns against unfair work practices, stated that the results “could be disastrous.” “You can’t support a teen workforce while there is a perceived labor shortage.”
Over the past two years, lawmakers have suggested lowering child labor restrictions in at least 10 states, according to a study released last month by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. While some bills were withdrawn or vetoed, others were signed into law. To alleviate the labor shortfall, lawmakers in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa are seriously contemplating loosening the restrictions on child labor. After a rise in retirements, deaths and illnesses from COVID-19, declines in legal immigration, and other causes, employers have had difficulty filling unfilled positions.
A plan to let 14-year-olds sell alcohol in pubs and restaurants has the support of Wisconsin legislators. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Wisconsin would have the lowest such restriction in the country if the measure were to succeed. A bill allowing students between the ages of 14 and 15 to work until 9 p.m. with their parents’ permission during the academic year is close to being passed by the Ohio Legislature. A companion measure requests that the U.S. Congress alter its own legislation because that is later than what federal law permits.
In March, Republican governor of Arkansas Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed legislation that did away with licenses requiring companies to confirm a child’s age and parental consent. Companies caught breaking child labor rules may more readily claim ignorance if no work permit restrictions are in place. New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Iowa have also enacted legislation to relax the restrictions on child work. Last year, Republican governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa passed legislation enabling 16 and 17-year-olds to work unsupervised in daycare facilities. This month, a bill allowing minors of that age to serve alcohol in restaurants was adopted by the state Legislature. The number of hours minors can work would also increase. The bill has until June 3 for Reynolds, who stated in April that she supports increasing adolescent employment, to sign or veto it. Many juvenile employees are not protected by current laws, according to Wurth.
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