HB 255 Weakens Child Labor Laws and Will Fuel More School Dropouts 

Republished from Kentucky Center for Economic Policy

Alarming growth in exploitive child labor is already a problem in Kentucky, with violations rising and the state making embarrassing national news on the issue. Now, a national effort funded by corporate interest groups to roll back state child labor laws has arrived in Kentucky. House Bill (HB) 255 would wipe out any state child labor regulations that exceeds the federal floor and will directly remove limits on the already expansive hours 16- and 17-year-old kids may work, likely fueling more school dropouts, making workplaces less safe and undermining jobs adult workers in Kentucky need. 

HB 255 would eliminate already broad guardrails on the hours and days of the week 16- and 17-year-old kids may work. Such changes could easily harm student success in school, reduce college or career readiness, and even expand the number of student drop-outs. It could also increase workplace injuries and undermine job opportunities for adults by incentivizing greater employer reliance on child labor. 

Eliminating the state’s ability to establish protections above the minimal federal requirements will prohibit the Education and Labor Cabinet from repromulgating the child labor regulation that establishes standards for employment of minors, which expires later this year. This will also tie the state’s hands in its ability to respond to changes in technology and workplace conditions in order to keep kids safe in the future. 

In the short term, it will eliminate already broad standards on the hours and times that 16- and 17-year-olds can work. This change would have the following effects for these children: 

  • Allow unlimited hours of work per day, even on school days and perhaps even during hours school is in session. Under the current regulations, these kids can already work up to six hours on school days and six-and-a-half with parental permission. On weekends, they can work up to eight hours a day. Additionally, the current regulations only allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work outside the school day.  
  • Allow unlimited hours of work per week even while school is in session. Currently, they are permitted to work up to a generous 30 hours a week, 32.5 hours with parental permission, and 40 hours a week with parental permission and a 2.0 grade point average. 
  • Allow kids to work late at night and even third shift or overnight. Currently, work hours on school days are between 6 a. m. and 10:30 p.m., or 11:00 p.m. with parental permission, and as late as 1:00 am on days not preceding a school day. 

We know that helping kids become ready for careers or for college through high school is essential to their success in life. The existing child labor standards are evidence-based, and it is hard to see how allowing additional hours and days of work will not impinge on success in preparing for postsecondary education or vocational pathways to good jobs following high school. Already, there are 19,000 Kentucky kids ages 16 to 19 who are not in school or working, and we are concerned that this bill could exacerbate that problem, threatening the progress Kentucky has made in graduation rates in recent decades. Research shows that “teenagers who spent long hours in jobs were more likely to drop out of high school than those who worked moderate hours or did not work at all.” 

In addition, these additional hours could harm children and fellow workers by increasing the likelihood of workplace injuries. Kids need more sleep because their minds and bodies are still growing, and young workers are less experienced with the equipment and processes involved in any workplace. Allowing additional hours of work on top of school hours, and work through the night, will increase the likelihood of workplace injury for these kids and put their fellow workers at additional risk.  

The bill could also incentivize employers to rely more on child labor at the expense of adult employees who rely on their wages from these jobs to make family ends meet. The result could be depressed wages and fewer job opportunities in industries like restaurants and retail that employ many thousands of adult workers across the commonwealth. 

Kentucky shouldn’t voluntarily cut off its ability to protect kids from the growing problem of exploitive child labor, and further hinder their ability to transition to a successful and healthy adulthood. 

The post HB 255 Weakens Child Labor Laws and Will Fuel More School Dropouts  appeared first on Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

Republished from Kentucky Center for Economic Policy