A conservative lobbying group is reportedly behind most state efforts to loosen child labor laws
Several states are moving to roll back child labor protections, arguing that laws limiting where, when, and how long youths can work deprive teens of helpful job experience and tie the hands of parents. But much of this push is coming from a conservative Florida think tank, the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), and its lobbying arm, the Opportunity Solutions Project, The Washington Post reports. And the organization is having quite a bit of success among Republicans on the state level.
FGA-backed child labor legislation is advancing in Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, Minnesota, and Georgia this year. But the group's "biggest victory" on this front so far was in Arkansas, helping design and push through a law that eliminates work permits and age verification for workers younger than 16, the Post reports. "That law passed so swiftly and was met with such public outcry that Arkansas officials quickly approved a second measure increasing penalties on violators of the child labor codes the state had just weakened."
"The reason these rather unpopular policies succeed is because they come in under the radar screen," David Campbell, professor of American democracy at the University of Notre Dame, tells the Post.
The Biden administration, which called relaxing state child labor laws "irresponsible" and dangerous for children, announced a crackdown on child labor violators in February. The Labor Department reports a 69 percent increase in minors illegally employed since 2018, the Post reports. "Some employers grappling with a tightening labor market and pressure from inflation have turned to younger workers, rather than increasing wages or benefits to attract older applicants."
"The main push for this reform didn't come from big business," FGA vice president Nick Stehle wrote in an op-ed for Fox News. "It came from families like mine, who want more of the freedom that lets our children flourish." Stehle said in a statement that his group, funded primarily by a handful of ultraconservative and Republican donors, is trying to eliminate "the permission slip that inserts government in between parents and their teenager's desire to work."
"When you say that a bill will allow kids to work more or under dangerous conditions, it sounds wildly unpopular," Campbell tells the Post, but saying a bill is about parental rights employs "a very carefully chosen term that's really hard to disagree with." Read more at The Washington Post.