Monday, March 14, 2011

Increase Youth Right to Work

Missouri senator Cunningham wants to limit child labor laws in her state, and the critics are already making it seem like she wants to eliminate them all together.  It says nothing about "forcing" children to work (it will be an all-volunteer workforce), it says nothing about parental approval, it says nothing about allowing kids to work in dangerous environments like mines and quarries. All her proposed bill does is allow kids to work longer hours, and bars inspectors from checking up on the enforcement of child labor laws.

Maybe it's because the law has that word "labor," in it, which makes it sound like kids are being forced into the "labor" workforce and will be typically hauling boulders up hills rather than taking your order at the drive through. Or maybe it's because any mention of child labor laws inevitably invokes the image of the 6 year old black and white factory workers, and the idea that any tinkering will land us back to how it was 200 years ago. Neither of these gut reactions are true. More often than not, child labor time restrictions are an archaic hindrance on the job site--arbitrary time laws like "can't work past 5" (or whatever the hours are), make it difficult for actors who may need to film at night, for example. That's not exploitation, because often the kid wants to, but gets pulled off at the cut off regardless.

And if we're talking about exploitation, what makes it okay to "exploit" 14 year olds, but not 13s? What difference does a year make if we're talking about worker exploitation? That's a separate issue that's true for any employee of any age. 

Here's a summary of the bill as it reads:

SB 222 – This act modifies the child labor laws. It eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen. Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed. It also repeals the requirement that a child ages fourteen or fifteen obtain a work certificate or work permit in order to be employed. Children under sixteen will also be allowed to work in any capacity in a motel, resort or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished. It also removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ. It also repeals the presumption that the presence of a child in a workplace is evidence of employment.

It's simply allowing teens to work more than they're presently permitted to and that they shouldn't have to be kicked off the job just because the government says so. It beats them hanging around malls or growing up thinking that life is going to be handed to them on a platter with a Platinum charge card, or growing up feeling unable to determine their own circumstances. Nobody is saying that 5 year olds should be employable (because nobody would employ them), but at present, if one agrees to weed the neighbor's garden, everything is stopping them for being paid for the work (legally).

And of course we'll hear from people who will correctly claim that kids who work longer hours become less focused on school, but of all the things that are distracting kids from school, is being productive really worse? Let's swear off this notion that if kids aren't working they can all just go join "clubs or something"--particularly in an economy where those kinds of activities are quickly being slashed regardless of enrollment. 

Besides, you're not taking people's rights away by doing this, you're actually extending to them more rights. Although I do see that kids who are willing to work longer hours will outcompete more "traditional after school" -type workers, but this may be one of the first steps to giving youth the right to vote. The only thing I disagree with is the move to complicate inspections, which is a stretch.