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Child Labor in the U.S. Seemingly On the Rise

In February 2023, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) imposed $1.5 million in civil penalties on Packers Sanitation Services for illegally employing children ages 13 to 17.  These kids worked jobs requiring them to clean razor-sharp saws using caustic chemicals in overnight shifts. The DOL imposed the maximum penalties permitted by law. A recent investigative report by The New York Times (NYT) revealed some companies, such as Cheerios and Fruit of the Loom, use migrant children to perform dangerous work. These migrant children largely came to the United States without their parents and get hired to work the hardest jobs. The NYT reporter found 12-year-old roofers in Florida and Tennessee, underage slaughterhouse workers in Mississippi and North Carolina, and children sawing wood planks during overnight shifts in South Dakota. The number of kids doing this work has increased significantly since the beginning of the pandemic. While this work violates child labor laws, the U.S. government does not do enough to prevent it from happening. Since the NYT report became public, President Biden announced a plan to crack down on the labor exploitation of migrant children.

Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee recently signed a new law rolling back child labor protections in the state. State law previously required employers to get work certificates for children under the age of 16. Governor Sanders considers that law an "arbitrary burden on parents to get permission from the government for their child to get a job." Workers under the age of 16 will no longer need a certificate to work. Proponents of the change believe parents should be responsible for deciding whether their kids work. Opponents believe requiring a certificate provides some protection for more vulnerable minors who are at higher risk of being exploited. Packers Sanitation Services does have an Arkansas plant.