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Arkansas Joins States Looking To Loosen Child Labor Laws

Too young to vote doesn't have to mean too young to work in a meat slaughtering plant!

Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks to someone outdoors.

Here’s a fun fact about Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the current Republican governor of Arkansas and former White House press secretary under Donald Trump: She wants to reduce child labor laws in her state, making it easier for companies to hire and potentially exploit kids. Sanders signed a bill into law last week that removes hurdles companies have faced when hiring workers under 16. Previously, children under 16 have had to fill out a one-page form with the state to verify their ages and secure a work permit from the division of labor. But under this new Youth Hiring Act of 2023, no one will have to deal with that pesky one-page form in order to engage in child labor anymore! Thanks, Gov. Sanders!

Supporters of the child labor protection rollbacks say the need to get a permit for 14 and 15-year-old workers was an annoying extra step in hiring underage workers, and that the power to authorize kids in the workforce should be in the hands of parents, not the state. Kids under 14 are generally not allowed to hold jobs in most states of the U.S.

“The Governor believes protecting kids is most important, but this permit was an arbitrary burden on parents to get permission from the government for their child to get a job,” Sanders’ communications director Alexa Henning said in a statement to NPR. “All child labor laws that actually protect children still apply and we expect businesses to comply just as they are required to do now.”

Some other states, like Iowa and Minnesota, are also in the process of loosey-gooseying child labor protections to allow underage individuals to work jobs that have been generally considered to have conditions that are too hazardous for kids, like meatpacking and construction. Last year, New Jersey also expanded the hours teenagers are allowed to work.

It doesn’t seem like a total coincidence that the Arkansas government wants to reduce hiring hurdles and youth labor protections right as the U.S. worker shortage is rearing its ugly head. After all, teens may be more willing to take the kind of low-paying positions that adults are rejecting since the beginning of the so-called Great Resignation.

Opponents of the new bill say that simple-to-get work permits protected underage youth from potential workplace abuses and exploitation. Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families recently posted about the passing of the bill on their website, saying,  “It was wild to listen to adults argue in favor of eliminating a one-page form that helps the Department of Labor ensure young workers aren’t being exploited.”

The new rollbacks of child labor laws we’ve started to see around the nation are coming at the same time we have started to see a rise in child laborers being exploited, according to reporting from NPR. And just a reminder—no, we are not in Dickensian England, we are in 2023, in the United States. If you can believe it.

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