Republican 'Mom' Protects Kids, Unless They're Poor Enough For Factory Work
To hear her tell it, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is among the world’s biggest Christians, although her definition might differ from yours or mine. Also, a world-class “mom,” to use the word she employs almost as frequently to describe herself.
“Just folks,” as we say down South.
So recently, Ma Sanders signed a law voiding restrictions on factory jobs for 14- and 15-year-old children. “The Youth Hiring Act of 2023,” they called it. No longer do ninth-graders need a certificate from the Division of Labor to work in paper mills, slaughterhouses or chicken-processing plants. Indeed, the state no longer has to verify the ages of job applicants at all.
“The governor believes protecting kids is most important,” Sanders’ office told NPR, “but this permit was an arbitrary burden on parents to get permission from the government for their child to get a job.”
What palpable nonsense. Needless to say, none of the three children residing in the Arkansas governor’s mansion will be working the night shift at your friendly neighborhood abattoir and coming home missing fingers or with animal blood in their hair.
This isn’t about the white, suburban kids Sanders gathers around her for photo ops. She recently signed a bill funneling state money to private school vouchers, surrounded by a crowd of children without a single Black or brown face in evidence, lest anybody fail to get the message.
Local enthusiasm for the youth hiring bill has been muted. An official with the Diocese of Little Rock told the Arkansas Catholic that the old law had been anything but onerous; it was a simple one-page application filed by employers and signed by parents or guardians.“
The work certificate,” he explained, “provided some safeguards for these minors by requiring proof of age, a description of the work and work schedule, and written consent of the parent or guardian.”
The Catholic Church is concerned partly because of Pope Francis’ oft-stated concern for the exploitation of children, and because those most affected by the new law will be immigrants from Central America — and mostly Catholics. Many have migrated north on their own and are sending money home to El Salvador and Honduras.
Even local business organizations displayed little interest in repealing worker protections. “A solution looking for a problem,” is how the president of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce described it.
Indeed, the law’s sponsor told Arkansas Business that its impetus came not from local businesses but from an outfit called the Foundation for Government Accountability, a “think tank” located — naturally enough — in Florida. Nor is Arkansas leading the pack in rolling back child labor laws to the New Deal era. Republican-led legislatures across the Midwest are dialing back workplace regulations even as the Biden administration seeks to enforce federal standards.
Minnesota would let 16-year-olds work in the construction trades. Iowa would not only let 14-year-olds work in meat-packing plants, but would shield employers from responsibility if they got hurt or even died on the job.
It’s not just southern and midwestern red states, either. An extensive, eye-opening report by Hannah Dreier of The New York Times documented what she called “a new economy of exploitation.”
“Migrant children, who have been coming into the United States without their parents in record numbers,” Dreier writes, “are ending up in some of the most punishing jobs in the country ... This shadow work force extends across industries in every state, flouting child labor laws that have been in place for nearly a century. Twelve-year-old roofers in Florida and Tennessee. Underage slaughterhouse workers in Delaware, Mississippi and North Carolina. Children sawing planks of wood on overnight shifts in South Dakota.”
Nor are these violations occurring only in remote, rural places: “The Times found child labor in the American supply chains of many major brands and retailers ... including Ford, General Motors, J. Crew and Walmart, as well as their suppliers.”
Teenagers may not work as efficiently as adults, and they get injured at much higher rates. But non-English speakers desperate to make their way will work for next to nothing. Easily bullied and sexually exploited, they won’t be joining labor unions, either, which contributes to keeping wages down and working conditions poor for adult employees, too.
Don’t like it here? You can be replaced by somebody who’s 14.
So, we regress, as the Sarah Huckabee Sanderses of the world “protect” children from drag queens, critical race theory and other largely chimerical threats in the name of “liberty.”
In his Esquire blog, Charles Pierce summed it all up in the words of Nebraska social worker Grace Abbott, testifying in 1938:
“Child labor and poverty are inevitably bound together, and if you continue to use the labor of children as the treatment for the social disease of poverty, you will have both poverty and child labor to the end of time.”
Backward into the future we go.
Reprinted with permission from Suntimes.