Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Rights & Reason: Stopping Child Labor Before it Starts

John Holzmann blogs on H.R. 4319, a nasty piece of legislation that effectively prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from holding gainful employment without government permission. The bill requires all minors seeking employment to obtain a government-issued permit from their local school district. No minor may work during school hours. This sounds logical until you realize that there are private- and home-educated students who don't follow the government school's schedule. Even so, these minors also require a permit from the government school.

Second, the bill bans minors from peddling goods or services door-to-door... unless they're peddling for a school or nonprofit organization. This means it would be illegal for teenagers to work for their parents' business if it involved door-to-door selling for any kind of payment. As Holzmann notes: "Notice, however, that, despite the 'dangers' this law is supposed to protect kids from, it permits use of children by public schools and other non-profit organizations to achieve their ends. Kids "simply" can't go ahead and engage in pecuniary pursuits for their own or their family's benefit."

Third, the bill laundry lists various items a minor can't use while employed, such as riding lawnmowers, ladders, and most importantly, deep fryers. This last item effectively prevents gainful employment at McDonald's. Which is largely the point. Like most labor legislation, this bill is being aggressively sponsored by the unions. It makes sense for them—the more restricted entry-level jobs are, the more room there is for union power to expand. Giving government schools—i.e. teacher unions—the power to control the employment of minors outside the system provides a powerful reminder to parents that the state is prepared to use force to quash individual freedoms.

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