Republican lawmakers in several states want to help businesses fill jobs by making it easier for them to hire young teenagers.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) on Tuesday signed a bill that will allow children under 16 to get jobs without the Department of Labor’s permission. Children that age previously had to apply for a permit verifying their age, parental permission to work, and the requirements and schedule of their job.
The GOP-controlled Ohio Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work until 9pm during the school year. Iowa lawmakers are debating a bill that would expand the hours teenagers are allowed to work and the type of jobs they are allowed to perform.
Supporters of the bills say they will tweak child labor laws to help employers desperate for workers. The bills are backed by business groups, such as state restaurant, grocer and hotel associations.
“There is no slippery slope,” Ohio Sen. Jerry Cirino (R) told Cleveland.com. “This is about a very narrow exception to existing law that meets the needs of local businesses.”
But Democrats, labor unions, and child welfare advocates say the proposals put children at risk and could make it harder for them to stay in school.
“We don’t need more kids working in factories and packing plants,” Jesse Case, secretary-treasurer and principal officer of Teamsters Local 238, said during a February protest of the Iowa bill, the Des Moines Register reported. “We need to pay higher wages for their parents, so the kids don’t have to work in factories and packing plants.”
Over half of teenagers had jobs in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. But that number has plummeted over the last 20 years as teenagers increasingly focus on their studies.
The shift reflects the changing economy. Higher education credentials, such as certificates and two- and four-year degrees, are now vital for many jobs.