Child labor never ended in America. It just waited for the right moment to strike back

The massive labor shortage has been something that’s eclipsed the national spotlight for the past six months. As COVID restrictions end, and people are leaving their homes more, shops have been desperate to employ people needed to meet demand.

Unfortunately, they aren’t doing much in the way of incentives to get people to work, or to handle the abuse customers will inevitably heap on them. During one of my classes discussing poverty in the United States, some of my students-mainly women who worked as servers-detailed uncounted levels of abuse, sexual harassment, and terrible management that they had had to contend with every shift.

During my own time as a grocery store worker, the entitlement from vacation goers, believing that I was constantly at the store 24/7 to service their needs was unbearable. And I, a 29-year-old, couldn’t handle it. So, I had to leave-I acknowledge that I was privileged to do so. Now I gleefully sing when I see Boomers complain because they must wait an extra ten minutes to check out since there aren’t enough cashiers. I know workers aren’t putting up with the “customer is always right” mentality that has rotted the minds of so many consumers in the US, and it puts a smile on my face.

Now, amidst a labor shortage that has both Democrats and Republicans-at least, those who care about the economy and not the millions of workers working for poverty wages-wringing their hands because with a labor shortage comes rich people not able to exploit more workers to make more money. It seems cutting people off from lifesaving unemployment benefits hasn’t been successful in incentivizing people to take on those exploitative jobs, huh?

The solution? Bring back child labor in the US!

Now, to be clear, child labor is still practiced inside and outside of the United States-and practiced outside of the country mostly because of the United States. The cocoa we eat in our chocolate bars is harvested from child labor. Children work within the garment industry to mass produce our cheap clothing. The farms we have our food grow on in America is cultivated by children. I can literally google child labor and x industry and more than likely, outsourced corporations will be gleefully using young children as workers to meet profit margins.

It would very well make great-and really horrible-sense to start easing up on federal child labor laws to create more workers to keep more businesses afloat. The fast-food chain McDonald’s in Oregon has been advertising their jobs to 14- & 15-year-olds to work at the restaurant, to plug up their shortage. And Wisconsin, despite the fact that their messaging is comedically villainous, has approved a standard allowing under-16 year old workers to work shifts past 9 pm, which is banned under federal guideline standards, and actively allowing later shifts on school nights so that “small businesses” can stay open to offset any lost revenue. Which means that employers can gently encourage(threaten) students to stay later, on school nights; I’m sure that that wouldn’t interfere with their classwork or grades, at all.

Child labor was never ended from the benevolence of politicians or robber barons. Workers fought for the right to keep their children home, and facing uprising, those in power folded. Now, in the face of providing living wages, better benefits, and allowing workers to organize, those same politicians and elites would rather exploit children in abusive jobs making poverty wages. And it will be the poorest youths who, desperate to help their families, will be burdened by the need to work. And they’ll be harmed by the system.

Maybe, if your business relies on exploitation to stay afloat, it shouldn’t be open. Maybe, if your profit and revenue is contingent on child labor, it should be burned to the ground along with the system that allowed you to profit for so long. Maybe children should not be burdened by a system of poverty and workers should be making a living wage, with health insurance and every benefit that their labor produces. If that’s not going to happen, the labor shortage should kill off every industry it touches. And I can’t wait for the day that happens.

(By Nichole Smith)

(Photo Credit: Business Insider / AP / Mary Altaffer)

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