Child Labor Laws

Child labor laws

Although children had been servants and apprentices throughout most of human history, child labor reached new extremes during the Industrial Revolution. Children often worked long hours in dangerous factory conditions for very little money. Children were useful as laborers because their size allowed them to move in small spaces in factories or mines where adults couldn't fit, children were easier to manage and control and perhaps most importantly, children could be paid less than adults. Child laborers often worked to help support their families, but were forced to forgo an education. Nineteenth century reformers and labor organizers sought to restrict child labor and improve working conditions, but it took a market crash to finally sway public opinion. During the Great Depression, Americans wanted all available jobs to go to adults rather than children.

Children's working history

The minimal role of child labor in the United States today is one of the more remarkable changes in the social and economic life of the nation over the last two centuries. In colonial America, child labor was not a subject of controversy. It was an integral part of the agricultural and handicraft economy. Children not only worked on the family farm but were often hired out to other farmers. Boys customarily began their apprenticeship in a trade between ages ten and fourteen. Both types of child labor declined in the early nineteenth century, but factory employment provided a new opportunity for children. Ultimately, young women and adult immigrants replaced these children in the textile industry, but child labor continued in other businesses. They could be paid lower wages, were more tractable and easily managed than adults, and were very difficult for unions to organize.

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