Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Child Labor Laws - More Bad Than Good?

John Stossel has a new article in which he argues that federal child labor laws harm children more than protect them. Link.
I've accompanied Labor Department cops as they barged into "sweatshops violating child labor laws." I expected to see horrors, but I never did. What the cops call "sweatshop," I call "employer." No teen ABC interviewed after the raids said he was being abused. All of them wanted the work. As the employers sullenly completed government paperwork, the teens would slip out the back door and find another illegal job. The bureaucrats didn't help kids; they only took choices away.

One young grocery bagger who lost his job because someone asked about child labor laws told us, "I was really sad because, they're not ... making us work. I mean, we wanted to do this." (...)

The Labor Department also gives a special exemption to child actors and farm workers and — for some reason — to wreath makers. Is that how American law should work? Special breaks for some, often those who lobby best? Should the right to work depend on some Washington big shot saying, "We can make an exception — when we choose"? Why is an anonymous grocery bagger less entitled to his freedom and to his dreams than the Olsen twins?

The bureaucrats say without these laws, children will be abused. But there are millions of employers in America, and they compete for workers. That marketplace competition protects workers better than job-killing Labor Department rules. If McDonald's treats a kid badly, he can usually get a job somewhere else. In a free society, people normally take jobs because they think they're better off with them than without them.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was terrible abuse of child labor (at least by today's standards) and so there was a reason for child labor laws. However, it is time to ask, is there still a need for them? We are not talking about children pushing coal cars along rails instead of attending school. Today, many children would like to take part-time work after school, but are barred by laws that predate their grandparents" birth. Liberals love "choice" when the topic is abortion, but they are totally opposed to it when it comes to education, Medicare, Social Security, and many aspects of labor, both for adults and for children.


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