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All Work and No Play for America's Children...

Cruelly and Inhumanely Make the Rich even Richer

News stations don't, strictly speaking, report what's new, but rather what’s new information to their audience. The stories themselves have often been ongoing, with long, deep histories that are only now being exposed to disinfecting sunlight. We saw this with the train derailment in East Palestine Ohio earlier this month, where not only did it take several weeks for the media to pick up the story, but Secretary Pete Buttigieg admitted that these types of derailments are quite common, and that Americans are exposed to toxic spills and environmental hazards nearly every day. It is only now, however, that our attention and our ire are being drawn to these apparently common catastrophes.

A similar disturbing phenomena has finally percolated into the public consciousness with a recent expose by the New York Times highlighting the rise in horrific child labor conditions within the United States. Investigative reporters have highlighted labor violations of children as young as 12 working in manufacturing plants for Hyundai in Alabama, and meat processing plants in Kansas and Nebraska as some of the most egregious examples. While we may now just be hearing about this, the sad truth is these child labor violations have been on the rise since 2015 with investigations from the labor department turning up nearly twice as many child labor violations per investigation. We've known for a long time that child labor is exploited in the agricultural industry among vulnerable immigrant and migrant workers, but rather than purging this scourge from these industries, investigators and reporters are finding that child labor violations are extending into new occupations and sectors.

The rise in child labor emerges from a confluence of factors: the tight labor market, low wages and increasing inflation pressures, and a lax regulatory environment. These conditions have made families more desperate to add additional household income while companies have been able to skirt the law and hire more child labor instead of increasing worker pay. In the incredibly unequal and exploitative society we’ve created, child labor is often a necessity for lower income families to make enough money to survive. While this might help these families with survival today, it’s a “choice” we are forcing on these children and their families. Making children work long hours deprives them not just of the childhood they deserve, but critical opportunities to develop psychologically, physically, and socially. This is especially true when discussing the dangerous, dirty and inhumane jobs highlighted in the NYT’s piece.

We are robbing society at large, as well as these individuals in particular, of a prosperous future so that companies can make an extra buck today. One of the worst elements of this story, is companies know the regulators fines are merely the cost of doing business. Packers Sanitation Services was fined the maximum civil fine of $1.5 million for over 100 child labor law violations, doubtless representing only a small fraction of the total violations they committed and the savings they accrued through these illegal actions. Our current environment, lacking any enforcement with teeth, makes child labor highly attractive to companies that care nothing for humanity and only for profit. Children are more vulnerable and easily exploitable; they cost less and can demand lower wages. Even worse, the vulnerability of these children rebounds back on the adult workers, depressing wages across the board and aiding companies in their efforts to break up union drives, employing children as scabs.

In the richest country on Earth this is simply unacceptable. We cannot allow ourselves to be a nation which sacrifices our children’s future for the slavish obsession with money and power by the few at the top. We must listen to the American people and strengthen child labor laws, strengthen regulatory enforcement, and demand that our government protects our children's present and future rather than aiding and abetting in their robbery. It will take a combination of political will and economic power to get there, so join us each week in growing solidarity as we fight for a country that treats its children as precious and worthy of protection not labor and exploitation!

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