More states considering changes to child labor laws to fill jobs

States like Iowa and Minnesota are considering legislation that would expand the types of jobs and number of hours teens can work.

Hiring sign displayed for snow operators and snow shovelers.
Nam Y. Huh / AP

Last summer, Maine and Michigan lowered the required age to serve alcohol. New Jersey raised the limit on the number of hours teens can work over the summer.

Now, some states are considering legislation that goes even further.

In Minnesota, a new bill would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work construction jobs. A proposed law in Iowa would let 14- and 15-year-olds work specific jobs in meatpacking plants and raise the limit on the number of hours teens are allowed to work during the school year.

Businesses would also be protected if a young employee gets sick, hurt or killed on the job.

A legal expert said these bills might be tough to pass because of federal law. If they do pass, she says, it may not have the intended effect on the job market.

“There's a lot more palatable ways to be making money as a young person right now,” said employment attorney Laura Lawless. “So it would have to be very compelling, and I think the reason why there might be some response to this is that there are certainly some families out there that are desperate, and that's another reason why this is a problematic measure.

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“You're not going to be seeing well-to-do families. You're going to be seeing those who are low-wage struggling families to begin with, who, instead of being able to support their kids’ education, have to turn their children to labor.”

She said this could also be a short-term fix to the worker shortage.

“Teens are going to grow up and move on to other professions or go off to college, and so it's going to become a circular self-fulfilling prophecy of a continuing labor shortage,” Lawless said.

Some of the proposed legislation does require parental consent.

She also recommends that parents tour any facility for potential safety hazards before agreeing to let their child work there.