Recently, headlines have been screaming that President Trump wants to roll back or unwind child labor laws.
Based on what’s been written by the mainstream press, one would get the impression that the president wants to return to the factory houses and unsafe labor practices of the 1800s, forcing kids out of school and making them work for a living. However, the truth is far more nuanced. What is more, upon closer inspection, the president’s ideas actually make a lot of sense.
The uproar over the President’s desire to modify child labor laws came about when the Department of Labor announced that it intends to relax Hazardous Occupations Orders to allow 16 and 17 year old apprentices to work with certain “dangerous” tools and in a number of dangerous jobs that they are currently unable to apply for.
The relaxation of these rules is in line with President Trump’s push to promote apprenticeship programs as a viable alternative to college; however, the president is not the only one who has realized that college is not ideal for everyone. Tom Perez, former Secretary of Labor and current chairman of the Democratic National Committee, wrote a memo in 2016 noting that over 90% of all apprentices are employed after completing their training programs. The memo also points out that the average salary for someone fresh out of apprenticeship training is $60,000 a year, and that employers who invest in apprenticeship training get back nearly $1.50 for every dollar invested in an apprentice.
Even so, those who are determined to hate everything the current president does are loudly complaining about the proposed changes. They point out that the human body and brain is not fully developed at 16 or 17 years of age. They note that the machinery in question is designed for adults and that safety gear often doesn’t fit younger workers. However, the fact is that the laws presently in place allow 16 and 17 year olds to operate dangerous machinery for up to one hour a day.
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota has clearly noticed this, and pointedly asked Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta at a recent infrastructure hearing how a one-hour time limit for 16 and 17 year olds to use dangerous machinery as part of an apprenticeship training program actually has anything to do with safety when these same young people can use the same machinery for a full work day the minute they turn 18.
It is worth noting that young people who sign up for apprenticeship programs do so of their own volition. They are not forced to choose a program that provides training for a dangerous job, neither are they forced to join to program that would require them to learn how to use dangerous machinery.
Oddly enough, those who say that 16 and 17 year olds are too young to receive sufficient training for a dangerous line of work have no problem with young people of the same age getting an abortion without parental consent, or even knowledge and/or obtaining hormone therapy to change their sexual orientation. It is an ironic fact that the same individuals who tell young people they are too young to obtain job training that would prevent college debt and lead to a successful career have no problem with underage young people engaging in self-destructive activities in the name of “freedom of choice.”
Naturally, operating dangerous machinery and/or obtaining training for a dangerous job is not a choice that should be made lightly. Those who choose to sign up for potentially dangerous apprenticeship programs should receive needed safety training to avoid serious on the job accidents. Additionally, those providing training should ensure their young workers have proper safety gear and supervision. At the same time, young people should be allowed to receive training in the fields of their choice without government bureaucrats holding them back.
The current Department of Labor initiative to modify child labor laws isn’t an attack on children and youth; instead, it is an attempt to give older teenagers a bit more freedom to receive training that will benefit their lives both now and in the future.