On May 8th, 2018, the Trump Administration announced their desire to repeal multiple child labor laws. While this is a cause for celebration, he should take it a step further. Trump should aim for the repeal of ALL child labor laws. Government overreach shows itself when it forbids a child from engaging in voluntary trade, or specifically telling them how they can work, for whom they can work, and for how long they can work.
While the masses hold child labor laws as sacred, one of our oldest and most valuable laws, child labor laws are comparatively new. The federal ban on child labor emerged from the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (the same act that brought about the disastrous minimum wage), a depression-era regulation that artificially lowered the unemployment rate, by banning certain classes from working! In a time when people needed work the most, the government made it harder to work and prolonged the depression.
This legislation, however, had little impact in the long haul. By 1930, only 6.4% of minor children between the age of 10-15 actually had jobs, so the 1938 law did nothing more than give the government more control of your life. As a nation, America has been wealthy enough to not need child labor by a considerable margin for years. Otherwise, this law is not only useless, but inherently immoral.
And what of nations/localities that are so poor that they need child labor? Child labor laws won’t stop people from sending their children to work if they absolutely need the money to survive. Child labor laws just make it worse for people as children resort to black market activities (such as prostitution or gang activity). Child labor laws make people more desperate to survive, disproportionately hurting poor communities the most.
In addition, suppose you are a parent. Would you send your 8 year-old child to a sweatshop for an additional $200 per month? I most certainly wouldn’t. I most certainly hope you wouldn’t. There are opportunities that are much better for children, especially as they become more tech-savvy. If a parent would do that, that is a cultural issue, not a political issue.
Child Labor is consensual. A willing child worker applied for a job, and a willing employer hired the child. With this in mind, both parties must believe that this exhange is mutually beneficial. To tell a minor child that they cannot work is to claim that you have the right to violate the property rights of both employer and worker.
This is just another example of the need for freedom of choice. Child labor laws restrict the ability of you to choose what you do with your time. In fact, the government forces children to partake in labor for them through government schools. Horace Mann, the father of the American education system, made it very clear that government schools are not to make good people, but obedient citizens. It is a form of indoctrination that the State compels upon children. It is forced labor, although not “hard” labor.
America is seeing the results of this now. Employers overwhelmingly claim that college grads are unprepared for the workplace, and its no surprise. Government schools force you to consume much of your time focusing on obedience and not innovation. Where critical thinking and soft skills are essential to the workplace, government “education” miserably fails to prepare an individual for a career.
Government-mandated labor, however, has even more dire consequences: the loss of entrepreneurship. Since children have no legal ability to join the labor force, they are encouraged to follow orders, not think for themselves. Kids have been at the forefront of innovation historically, but that has been changing as young people have been forcefully adopted by the State, ripped away from their families that actually want what is best for them. Experience in the workplace is good for people. Child labor laws, however, are disastrous. They are a breach of fundamental liberties.