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The Downside of Teen Employment

A Critical Look at Child Labor Laws


Irresistible tales of paperboys becoming millionaires have reinforced the public's high regard for teen employment. Jobs teach responsibility, team skills, and money management, and they allow teens to help their families.

Teachers, however, see another side of teen employment--the top of the head, drool on the desk and homework undone. We know the personal costs to teens are having too little time--too little time to study, too little time to be with family and friends, and too little time to think.

Dangers Associated With Teen Employment

We may be surprised, however, to learn that between 1980 and 1989, 670 teenagers were killed on the job and that seventy percent of the deaths and injuries during this period involved violations of state labor laws and the Fair Labor Standards Act.

According to a 1992 report by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, 64,100 children received emergency room treatment for work related injuries in 1992.

Abuse of child labor laws in l995 was worse than it was in the l930s. Ron Nixon explained that "even when companies are inspected and violations are found, the maximum penalty of $10,000 per violation is rarely enforced." Inspectors rarely visit businesses to investigate child labor problems.

Since the media has been quiet on this issue, parents have assumed businesses were abiding by the law, teachers have felt they should not interfere with family matters, and teens have not realized they are being abused.

Although the teen work force is estimated at five million, inconsistent data collection has made it difficult to get an accurate count of teen workers, teen injuries, and teens deaths.

We do know, however, that too many students are working too many hours.

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