America’s Child Labor Problem

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh at the U.S. Capitol, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

It’s hard for many to believe, but companies across the U.S. are employing migrant children as young as 12 to sanitize slaughterhouse floors, construct roofs, and package food products. And even in the wealthiest country in the world, putting an end to the practice is a long way off.

The Labor Department recently reported a 69 percent increase in companies illegally employing children since 2018. Last year, the department found 835 companies employing nearly 4,000 children unlawfully. And more than 600 child labor investigations are currently underway. 

“This is not a 19th century problem—this is a today problem,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in a statement. “This is a problem that will take all of us to stop.”

The reports have sparked federal and state investigations, and a promised crackdown from the Biden administration. But with divided government and only a nebulous sense of the problem’s size, the exploitation of children for labor will be difficult to eradicate.

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