Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Brody: United States Child Labor

United States Child Labor:
Of the 19th and 20th Century
Liza Brody
April 12, 2013

In the late 1800s, the United States population amplified due to immigration and a decreased death rate. During this time the employment of young children to significantly increase. IN both the 19th to 20th centuries child labor became a topic of controversy for United States citizens, especially parents of child laborers. “The Social Welfare History Project states that historically child labor is defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development”.i Child labor involves at least one of the following characteristics: it violates a nation’s minimum age laws; threatens children’s physical, mental, or emotional well-being; involves intolerable abuse (such as child slavery, trafficking, debt bondage, forced labor, or illicit activities), prevents children from going to school; or uses children to undermine labor standards.ii Still, in the late 1800s, the strong demand from factories, as well as mining and agricultural trade on children to work had developed concerns of children not receiving a proper education including crucial job skills, and training. America’s economy caused many people to endure poverty and indigence. It became necessary for children to work in order to contribute to the family’s income.

In the 1900’s, children were employed in many various trades such as agriculture, domestic work, industrial labor, and mining. “According to William Willoughby the, great mass of children who work at home in miserable tenement houses, in most cases not receiving wages, but merely helping their fathers and mothers in their work”.iii Other children sold cheap items like soaps, newspapers and matches.
As industrialization moved workers from farms and home workshops into urban areas. Factory owners preferred to hire children because they were more manageable, cheaper laborers, and less likely to strike.iv The Child Education Labor Project says that younger children were set to work, and that factory owners occasionally would give work to children as young as 4 years old.v A child being a small size was very desirable in the workplace especially in factories and in coal mines. Children could easily fit in mines and tunnels that adults could not and between machines in factories.
What were the statistics of child laborers?
The western half of the United States had less children employed, therefore child labor was more prevalent in eastern states. An 1870 census of the entire nation had determined that approximately 1,120,000 children ages ten to fifteen were employed, that’s an average of one child out of every sixteen employees. The child labor demand was higher in certain trade industries. From 1870-1880 the number children employed in agriculture increased sixty-six percent while the number of adults employed only increased by forty-seven percent. Another significant increase was in the manufacturing, mechanical and mining trades where the number of employed children increased ninety-eight percent while adult employment increased at a much lower forty-two percent. Surprisingly, research states that the largest rise in child employment didn’t begin until 1880.vi In 1880, children mostly worked in cotton mills. One out of six of those employed in these cotton mills were children under fifteen years old, while in mining trades statistics showed a ratio of one to twenty and in tobacco trades, one to twelve. In Chicago, The Factory and Tenement-house Inspectors of that city in 1881 reported 4,600 boys and girls of fifteen and under in the factories and workshops.vii Investigators in Pennsylvania discovered that 24,000 boys fifteen and under were at work on coal mines throughout the state.
What are the negative effects of child labor?
Children were forced to work in disgusting environments under horrendous conditions. Young girls who would work in factories, and mills and were at continuous risk of their hair being caught by the machines and scalping them, or falling and breaking or losing a body part.viii Many local, state, and federal departments and agencies have conducted investigations regarding these circumstances of the children’s workplace. When questioned, factory owners denied answers concerning any accusations. Employers had issues understanding that a child’s working conditions are more sensitive than those of an adult’s. Children are in the process of growing in which they require more food and rest, while their tissues and organs and bones are rapidly developing. Children also, have a lowered heat tolerance, higher chemical absorption rates, and a higher risk of hearing loss. These are quite significant risk factors for child laborers. The unconditional worst forms of child labor (e.g., slavery, soldiering, prostitution, drug trafficking) may have traumatic effects, including longer term health and socioeconomic effects.ix Studies show that about twenty-five percent of child laborers become experience illness or injury while at work, and each year, approximately three million of these children die. Most deaths and injuries occur in the agricultural trade. A handful of issues that contributed to these injuries, illnesses, and deaths was the exposure to pesticides, working with heavy machinery and sharp tools, working at a very early age, reduction of clean water, places to hand wash, and bathrooms, and also agricultural working environment’s standards were much less imposed. Investigations show that work places which employed more children were more likely to be risky, dangerous and unsafe conditions to work in. Most workplaces did not provide new hires with proper training for the position which additionally contributed to injuries that occurred on the job.
“The Social Welfare History Project writes that what is to be prevented is child labor in its most extreme form: Children being enslaved separated from their families, exposure to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves”.x Local and state agencies developed laws in attempts to prevent abusive child labor (also referred to as extreme child labor). These laws and codes of enforcement would vary from state to state, all dependent upon them having any type of child labor conduct. At this time the number of children working started increased. In the state of Massachusetts in 1836, the first child labor law was passed enforcing that children under fifteen years old must attend school for at least three months a year in order to maintain employment in a factory. Later in 1842, Massachusetts State passed another law stating children can work a maximum of 10 hours per day. In 1876, the working men’s capitalist party suggests the prevention of those less than fourteen years of age from becoming employed. Then, in 1881 the newly formed American Federation of Labor supports minimum age law, which was the first national convection of the AFL passes a resolution calling on states to ban children under fourteen from all gainful employment.xi Lastly, in 1892, politicians finally agree to labor unions’ proposals to ban factory unemployment to those under fifteen.
During the 20th century, the number of employed children had drastically increased. Finally, after many failed attempts to implement laws, and amendments, the United States really began to set firm changes to child labor. On April 25, 1904 men and women congregated at Carnegie Hall in New York City angry, worried and ready to make serious changes to the current child labor situation of the United States. On that day, these people formed a committee called the National Child Labor Committee and very shortly after formed an organization to gain support of fellow Americans and begin research to develop accurate knowledge of the United States’ child labor issue at hand. “The National Labor Committee reports that in 1907, their committee was charted by an Act of Congress, which immediately began to garner support and move towards action and advocacy”.xii A man named Lewis W. Hines left his place of employment as a teacher to conduct investigations with the NCLC in reference to situations of extreme child labor. From the years 1911 until 1916 Hines traveled across the United States secretly taking pictures of children at work in various environments. In 1916 President Wilson had put the Keating-Owen Act in affect which prohibited child labor from being sold in the country’s industry. Shortly after Hines’ efforts had paid off the Supreme Court demolished the act declaring it as unconstitutional in the year 1918. After the Great Depression of 1929, outlooks seemed to have changed and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal made politicians take a look at conditions of extreme child labor. About a decade later, in 1938 the Fair Labor Standards Act was put into effect. This act declared that the minimum working age for the agricultural trade is sixteen to work during school hours, and fourteen to work before, or after school hours. In other, non-agricultural trades, the minimum age was sixteen during school hours. Any occupation that was deemed dangerous you were required to be at least eighteen years old.
Unfortunately today, extreme child labor still occurs all over the world in addition to the United States, also in Europe, Asia and Africa. The rate of children employed has decreased the most in recent years. Currently, in the United States there are three basic laws of child labor still imposed. These laws are as follows; children younger than twelve are not to be employed (unless they are working under special, specific conditions), children between ages twelve and sixteen can work a limited schedule in safe occupations during non-school hours (or work approved hours), and children between ages sixteen and eighteen may work unlimited hours in declared safe occupations. These laws were place in effect to ensure that children are protected in their workplace and are also attending school, receiving a formal education.

i The Social Welfare History Project, Child Labor-The American Era of Child Labor,

ii University of Iowa Labor Center, What is Child Labor-The Child Labor Education Project, http://www.continuetolearn.uiowa.edu/laborctr/child_labor/about/what_is_child_labor.html (July 2011)

iii William F. Willoughby, Child Labor: Publications of the American Economic Association (American Economic Association: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2485611;Vol. 5, No.2, March 1890), 154

iv University of Iowa Labor Center, Child Labor in U.S. History-The Child Labor Education Project, http://www.continuetolearn.uiowa.edu/laborctr/child_labor/about/us_history.html (July 2011)

v Child Labor Education Project, What is Child Labor, http://www.continuetolearn.uiowa.edu/laborctr/child_labor/about/what_is_child_labor.html (July 2011)

vi William F. Willoughby, Child Labor: Publications of the American Economic Association (American Economic Association: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2485611;Vol. 5, No.2, March 1890), 25-40

vii William F. Willoughby, Child Labor: Publications of the American Economic Association (American Economic Association: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2485611;Vol. 5, No.2, March 1890), 25-40

viii Kelley, Florence, The Working Boy: American Journal of Sociology, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2761630 (The University of Chicago Press, November 1896), 358-368

ix University of Iowa Labor Center, Health Issues-The Child Labor Education Project, http://www.continuetolearn.uiowa.edu/laborctr/child_labor/about/health_issues.html (July 2011)

x The Social Welfare History Project, Child Labor-The American Era of Child Labor,

xi University of Iowa Labor Center, Child Labor in U.S. History-The Child Labor Education Project, http://www.continuetolearn.uiowa.edu/laborctr/child_labor/about/us_history.html (July 2011)

xii National Child Labor Committee, About NCLC- About us,

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