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What the F**k Is Going On with All of Those Child Labor Incidents?

Sunday, May 14th, 2023

Happy Mother’s Day!

This week’s core story is about: The rise in child labor violations.


A New York jury found former President Donald Trump sexually abused and defamed writer E. Jean Carroll, awarding her $5 million in damages. While the jury found Trump not liable for rape, that shouldn’t distract from the fact that the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for the presidency was just found liable for sexual assault, and it probably won’t cost him any support.

Rep. George Santos (R-NY) pleaded not guilty to 13 federal criminal counts, including charges he stole from his campaign and lied to Congress about being a millionaire. Santos, who fabricated seemingly everything about his life in order to win his seat, told reporters he won’t drop his reelection bid or resign despite the indictment.

Title 42, a pandemic-era policy that allowed the government to severely limit immigration into the U.S., ended Thursday. The Biden administration announced a new set of policies that it hopes will help limit illegal entry into the U.S., while also providing new legal pathways to enter the country.

NBCUniversal executive Linda Yaccarino will be Twitter’s next CEO.Elon Musk announced the decision Friday, saying Yaccarino “will focus primarily on business operations,” while he handles “product design and new technology.”

What the F**k Is Going On with All of Those Child Labor Incidents?

Images released by the US labor department show children working illegally for PSSI

U.S. Department of Labor

The Labor Department has seen a sharp increase in child labor violations in recent years, driven by a new attack on the laws protecting children from being exploited. This used to be a settled issue. So, what does the research say about the ongoing attacks on child labor laws? And how are we addressing the recent rise in child labor exploitation?

What’s happening:

Earlier this month, the Labor Department announced 62 McDonald’s restaurants across four states had violated federal labor laws by illegally employing 305 children to work more hours than permitted and perform tasks prohibited for young workers. The agency identified two 10-year-old children who were working as late as 2 am at locations in Louisville, Kentucky.

In February, another high-profile Labor Department investigation found Packers Sanitation Services Incorporated, one of the nation’s largest slaughterhouse cleaning companies, had illegally employed at least 102 children (two pictured above) at 13 different slaughterhouses in eight states. The agency found kids were tasked with cleaning hazardous equipment and working overnight shifts as early as 2019.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, recent reporting also shows unaccompanied youth migrants trapped in the U.S. immigration system are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by employers, something the Biden administration has so far failed to adequately address.

The investigations are part of an overall disappointing trend.

Since 2018, the Labor Department has seen a 69% increase in companies employing children in violation of federal law, including 835 companies that illegally employed over 3,800 kids in fiscal year 2022. The agency also identified 688 kids illegally employed in hazardous jobs in 2022, the most since fiscal year 2011.

So, what does the research say about the increase in child labor violations? And what’s driving the attacks on child labor protections in states across the country? Let’s dive in.

What the research says:

A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found the number of children employed in violation of federal law increased 37% over the past year and “skyrocketed” 283% since 2015. At the same time, at least 10 states have introduced or passed legislation weakening child labor protections in the past two years.

Eight bills rolling back child labor protections have been introduced in six states this year, including bills allowing children to work in previously prohibited hazardous occupations (e.g., in meat coolers and at construction sites).

In one fitting example, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill eliminating the state’s requirement for work permits for 14- and 15-year-olds. The kicker? She signed it about a month after the above-mentioned Labor Department investigation into Packers Sanitation Services Incorporated found 10 of the 102 illegally employed children were working at slaughterhouses within her own state.

The EPI report notes Republican lawmakers aren’t acting on their own, finding business groups and their state affiliates are the primary driver of the bills attacking child labor protections, particularly the National Federation of Independent Business, the Chamber of Commerce, and the National Restaurant Association.

A recent Washington Post report also shed light on the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative lobbying group that’s spent years “work[ing] systematically to shape policy at the state level,” including helping with the Arkansas bill gutting teenage work permit requirements.

Why it matters:

This used to be a settled issue. It took the Great Depression and decades of political debate, but we seemingly had it figured out.

In 1938, we enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which outlawed “oppressive child labor” and set floors for standards, wages, and hours for teenage workers. We rightfully decided kids should be able to work some jobs (e.g., delivering newspapers, babysitting, the arts, and working in family businesses), while being banned from hazardous roles (e.g., on factory floors).

So, why are Republican lawmakers and conservative groups taking us backwards?

The EPI report found proponents of rolling back child labor protections cite the reduction in labor participation among 16- to 24-year-olds over the past two decades as evidence that young people are being prevented from working. But, the report also shows that reasoning is wrong, since the reduction in labor participation among the group actually reflects more young adults choosing to pursue higher education.

Others point out the history of the FLSA and how child labor is a good way to tamp down wages.

The Biden administration is responding to the recent increase in child labor violations with a new inter-agency taskforce on “Child Labor Exploitation” and the development of a national strategic enforcement initiative to monitor violations in the work environments they’re most likely to occur.

The administration is also calling on Congress to increase the penalty for child labor violations, which currently stands at just $15,138 per child, an amount the Labor Department says isn’t high enough to deter major profitable companies.

It remains to be seen whether the new policies will be enough.

I’ll leave you with a statement from U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh:

“Too often, companies look the other way and claim that their staffing agency, or their subcontractor or supplier is responsible. Everyone has a responsibility here. This is not a 19th century problem – this is a today problem. We need Congress to come to the table, we need states to come to the table. This is a problem that will take all of us to stop.”


Handguns for sale at a gun shop


A Federal Judge in Virginia Ruled Young Adults Can’t be Prohibited from Buying Handguns

U.S. District Judge Robert Payne, a George H.W. Bush appointee, on Wednesday ruled laws prohibiting federally licensed firearms dealers from selling handguns to 18- to 20-year-olds are unconstitutional, finding the laws violate the Second Amendment.

  • Experts say opening up handgun sales to young adults is dangerous and wrong, since research shows teenagers are more impulsive and face elevated dangers from firearms.

  • The Justice Department is expected to appeal the ruling and request a stay.


Education Secretary Miguel Cardona during his confirmation hearing in February 2021


The Federal Student Loan Repayment Pause Is Ending Soon

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Thursday told the Senate appropriations committee the process to resume student loan repayments will begin “no later than June 30,” though payments won’t actually begin until 60 days after that date.

  • The current pause on repayments was announced in November 2022 and is set to end either 60 days after June 30 or 60 days after the Supreme Court rules on the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan.

  • Biden’s plan includes forgiving up to $20,000 in student debt for Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 for borrowers who make under $125,000 per year (though the justices seem poised to block the plan).


Shoppers at a Costco store in Florida in August 2022


U.S. Inflation Fell to 4.9% in April

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 4.9% in April from a year ago, down from 5% in March to mark the 10th consecutive month of declines, according to Labor Department data released Wednesday.

  • The April figure narrowly beat Wall Street estimates of 5%, though prices of goods and services still increased 0.4% for the month.

  • The U.S. CPI now sits below the most recent figures from the U.K. (10.1% in March), the Eurozone (7% in April), and France (5.9% in April), according to data compiled by The Financial Times.


Nearly a Year Post-Dobbs, Americans Still Broadly Support Abortion

A new survey by ABC News found 78% of U.S. adults say the decision of whether to have an abortion should be left to a woman and her doctor, rather than be regulated by law, including solid majorities of Republicans (58%) and conservatives (60%).

  • Even among evangelical white Protestants, often seen as the leading anti-abortion group, 56% say the decision should be left to a woman and her doctor, as do 78% of Catholics, 83% of non-evangelical white Protestants, and 92% of people with no religious affiliation.

  • ABC News found just 27% of respondents support the Supreme Court’s decision to end the constitutional right to an abortion in Dobbs, while 66% oppose it, including 54% who say they strongly oppose the ruling. If you’re with the opposition, I’ve got bad news for us, because…

Liberals Might Not Control the Supreme Court Until 2065

A new study by researchers at the University of Chicago, Washington University in St. Louis, and Harvard University shows the conservative legal movement of the past few decades has worked, finding liberals probably won’t control the nation’s high court until 2065.

  • The authors argue a trifecta of Ruth Bader Ginsburg refusing to retire, Mitch McConnell’s unprecedented decision to block Merrick Garland’s confirmation, and McConnell’s later reversal of his reasoning in order to seat Justice Amy Coney Barrett within weeks of an election pushed the next time Democrats are likely to control the Supreme Court from 2029 to 2065 (despite Democrats winning more popular support in all but one election since 1988).

  • For context, we’re currently closer in time to the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album and the debut of the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial than we are to the year 2065.

Researchers Sequenced the Genome of Balto (Yes, That Balto)

A new study by researchers at Cornell University sequenced the genome of legendary sled dog and forever good boy, Balto, comparing his genomic data to that of 682 other dogs and wolves to find his lineage was genetically healthier and less inbred than modern breeds. Balto also shared substantial ancestral similarities with modern Siberian huskies, Alaskan malamutes, and Greenland sled dogs (though he was most closely related to Alaskan sled dogs).

  • Balto became famous after he led a crew of sled dogs on the final leg of a 674-mile trip to deliver a lifesaving antitoxin to a remote Alaskan town that had been struck with an outbreak of diphtheria in 1925.

  • Balto was honored with a statue in Central Park that same year and became the eponymous subject of the 1995 animated film commemorating the epic journey (he was voiced by the equally legendary Kevin Bacon). “I’ll just go f**k myself,” said his human sled driver Gunnar Kasson (just kidding).


  • $42 billion - The amount of federal student loan debt the Biden administration has forgiven for more than 615,000 public service workers since October 2021, according to the Department of Education.

  • 62.3% - The percentage of U.S. workers who say they’re satisfied with their jobs, according to a new report by The Conference Board. It’s the highest level of U.S. worker satisfaction measured since the organization began tracking the data in 1987.

  • 1.1 million - The number of cars Tesla is recalling in China over a defect related to the vehicles’ regenerative braking system. The recall covers nearly all of the 1.13 million cars the company has ever sold in China, continuing its legacy as one of the most-recalled car brands among major automakers. And, for the Elon bros in the back, an over-the-air update is indeed a recall.

  • 62 - The number of new moons discovered orbiting the ringed planet Saturn, according to observations compiled by an international team of researchers led by astronomers at the University of British Columbia in Canada. The newly discovered moons bring Saturn’s total to 145, regaining its status as the planet with the most moons and becoming the first to have over 100 discovered in total (Jupiter is a distant second at 95 moons).


Long Video. Learn how Disney’s lawyers outmaneuvered Meatball Ron. (23 min)

Short Video. Are fake downtowns becoming the new shopping malls? (6 min)

Fun Video. What would happen if we dumped our trash into volcanoes? (4 min)

Good Read. Steamboat races dominated American rivers in the 19th century. (1,704 words; 8 min)

Neat List. Take a look at 10 exciting construction projects set to complete this year (the first five are buildings, but it gets good after that).


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Written by Ryan Wittler