Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill into law on Wednesday that will scale back labor protections for children under 16.
Under the new law, children under 16 no longer have to get permission from the state’s Division of Labor to get a job, nor will they need to have their age verified or submit things like their work schedule for a permit. In addition to no longer needing to get a work certificate, children won’t need their parents’ consent.
Sanders’s communication director, Alexa Henning, told BuzzFeed News in an email that the permit was “an arbitrary burden on parents to get permission from the government for their child to get a job.”
“All child labor laws that actually protect children still apply and we expect businesses to comply just as they are required to do now,” Henning added.
But Seema Nanda, the US Department of Labor’s solicitor of labor, said in an email that it’s “irresponsible” to loosen child labor protections.
“Federal and state entities should be working together to increase accountability and ramp up enforcement — not make it easier to illegally hire children to do what are often dangerous jobs,” Nanda said. “No child should be working in dangerous workplaces in this country, full stop. The FLSA and its child labor protections apply in all states and no state has the ability to limit these provisions. The Department has and will continue to vigorously enforce child labor protections across the nation."
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, companies across the nation have reported having trouble finding employees and some have started hiring children to fill the shortage. A pizza shop in Pennsylvania had a 14-year-old employee in 2021 who was making $9.50 per hour. A pumpkin patch in Missouri lowered the employment age to 14 in 2021, and a Burger King in Ohio offered to hire 14- and 15-year-olds. The idea that nobody wants to work anymore is decades old, but Republicans have clung to it over the last few years.
Child labor laws are also loosening throughout the country. In Ohio, a bill was passed allowing 14- and 15-year-olds to work until 9 p.m. year-round. A bill was introduced in Minnesota that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work construction jobs.
Since 2018, there has been a 69% increase in illegal child labor, according to the Department of Labor. In February, the department announced that it had found more than 100 children illegally employed at Wisconsin-based Packers Sanitation Services. The children ranged in ages from 13 to 17 and were working overnight shifts at 13 meat processing facilities in eight different states. The kids were exposed to hazardous chemicals while they were cleaning meat processing equipment, like back saws, brisket saws, and head splitters. Three children were injured while working for the company. Packers Sanitation Services paid $1.5 million in fines.
“The child labor violations in this case were systemic and reached across eight states, and clearly indicate a corporate-wide failure by Packers Sanitation Services at all levels,” Jessica Looman, principal deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division, said in a statement. “These children should never have been employed in meat packing plants and this can only happen when employers do not take responsibility to prevent child labor violations from occurring in the first place.”