Back in 2011, in this post and this post, we discussed the plans of some Maine Republican lawmakers to loosen restrictions on child labor. Those plans did not come to fruition but, according to recent news reports, the LePage administration wants to try again but this time with some measures that are less drastic. Currently under Maine law, kids younger than 16 may not work unless they obtain a permit from their school superintendent. A bill in the Maine legislature would, among other things, permit the Maine Department of Labor to issue those permits, instead of a school superintendent, during summer break.
Governor LePage has made clear that this bill is, in his view, just a good place to start in rolling back child labor laws. For instance, under current law, children under the age of 14 may not work in most instances. Governor LePage wants to change that legal limit to the age of 12.
Child labor laws were originally enacted in the 19th and 20th centuries because children were being exploited by employers. Similar concerns about exploitation should exist today. Children, who are less educated and have less life experience than adults, are less likely than adults to know that an employer is violating their rights. They are also less likely to push back when an adult exploits them or treats them unlawfully because many are taught to never question adults with authority over them. For these reasons, lawmakers should exercise caution when they consider undoing decades-old child labor laws.