A Brief History of Child Labor Laws in the United States
Child labor laws in the United States are covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, touted as the framework for the federal laws that started the changes in child employment practices in America.
Child labor in the annals of American history traces its roots to the first arrival of European colonial settlers, as they were governed by colonial courts that actually ordered all members of each household to work on their farms and cottage industries. Children were included, in fact, even as young as three years old, and this order was directed to families who belonged to the poorer sectors.
Child labor became even more prominent as slavery was transformed into an institutionalized norm; hence some children were even born into servitude. In other parts of the US where slavery was not practiced, the industrialized businesses harnessed child labor because it was the most economical and manageable source of manpower. In fact, it is said that families with several children or widows and their children had better chances for employment over unmarried applicants.
Although subsequent social concerns were growing, it was only during the time of President Franklin Roosevelt that the plights of child laborers were addressed. The enactment of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 instituted laws and provisions that protected US children’s welfare and their rights as workers. From then on, the FLSA of 1938 went through more than twenty amendments.
As a whole, the objectives of the child labor laws in the US are to make sure that children are not deprived of educational opportunities and that they are not exposed to working conditions that are detrimental to their health and safety. Recently, the US Department of Labor (DOL) under the Wage and Hours Division issued a set of Final Rules for Child Labor Regulations which became effective in July 2010.
Notwithstanding that, however, every US state adopts its own rules and standards to govern the practice of youth employment. In cases of conflicts between federal laws and state standards, the rule that equates to a higher degree of protection for child workers will prevail.
To provide the reader with resources for determining the child labor standards and rules per state, the US DOL has provided a portal for all State Labor Offices-Wage and Hour Division, where they can get direct links to a US state’s labor office website.
The following sections contain the highlights of the recently enacted final rules on child labor laws in the United States: