White House announces enhanced enforcement of child labor laws as abuse and violations surge: report

White House announces enhanced enforcement of child labor laws as abuse and violations surge: report
Children play in a migrant labor camp in rural North Carolina. Most of the children attend local schools and speak fluent english. The agricultural fields of rural Eastern North Carolina produce bountiful crops for America's food markets, as well as most of the tobacco grown in America. These crops are harvested by migrant farm workers, mostly from Mexico, some of who have seasonal work visas and some of who are undocumented. Some farm workers settle in the area, while others migrate with the wi (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images).

President Joe Biden's administration revealed on Monday that it is stepping up enforcement of child labor laws amid a surge of industry abuses throughout the United States, including the illegal employment of migrant kids, Reuters exclusively reported late Monday night.

"The Labor Department had seen a nearly 70% increase in child labor violations since 2018, including in hazardous occupations. In the last fiscal year, 835 companies were found to have violated child labor laws," Reuters learned on a call with federal officials.

The Biden White House, according to Reuters' sources, "was probing the employment of children at companies including Hearthside Food Solutions and suppliers to Hyundai Motor Company. It has created an interagency task force on child labor, and plans to target industries where violations are most likely to occur for investigations."

READ MORE: Republicans have a new idea to fix the labor shortage: Loosen child labor laws

"Biden is also pushing for heavier penalties for companies that violate these laws, and more funding for enforcement and oversight," Reuters explained. "US federal law prohibits people under age 16 from working in most factory settings, and those under 18 are barred from the most dangerous jobs in industrial plants."

One unnamed individual told the outlet that "This isn't a 19th-century problem, this isn't a 20th-century problem, this is happening today," noting that "we are seeing children across the country working in conditions that they should never ever be employed in the first place."

On Saturday, The New York Timespublished an eye-opening exposé detailing the extent of the "economy of exploitation" of minors that transcends domestic geopolitics and indicts a broad swath of major industries.

"Migrant children, who have been coming into the United States without their parents in record numbers, are ending up in some of the most punishing jobs in the country, a New York Times investigation found. This shadow workforce 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," correspondent Hannah Dreier wrote.

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"Largely from Central America, the children are driven by economic desperation that was worsened by the pandemic. This labor force has been slowly growing for almost a decade, but it has exploded since 2021, while the systems meant to protect children have broken down," Dreier continued, adding that "The Times spoke with more than 100 migrant child workers in 20 states who described jobs that were grinding them into exhaustion, and fears that they had become trapped in circumstances they never could have imagined. The Times examination also drew on court and inspection records and interviews with hundreds of lawyers, social workers, educators, and law enforcement officials."

National Public Radio further pointed out on Sunday that the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division data shows that while "the total number of violations is much lower than it was two decades ago," the agency is "finding more minors per case, and it's not clear why. Investigators are also finding more minors working in hazardous occupations, where children could get seriously injured."

Agriculture is a notorious culprit due to the exemptions it receives from typical regulations and the underenforcement of the rules that do exist.

But the battle over the appropriate age at which young people should be allowed to work – particularly in dangerous conditions – is not limited to individuals of foreign birth.

In Iowa, for example, Senate File 167 has generated public blowback due to its provisions that "would allow 14-year-olds to perform more jobs that would include being inside freezers and meat coolers and being allowed to use more equipment in kitchens," Des Moines' KCCI reported on Monday. "The bill would also allow 16- and 17-year-olds to serve alcohol."

A similar effort is underway in Minnesota, where according to The Washington Post, lawmakers put forth a proposal in January that "would permit 16- and 17-year-olds to work construction jobs."

READ MORE: Nearly 50 million people are enslaved around the world: report

Reuters' full report is available here. The New York Times' is here (subscription required). NPR's is here. The Washington Post's is here (subscription required).

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