Despite common belief, child labor still exists in the United States. In some areas more than others. The government defines child labor as “work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.” There are companies in America that employ kids who; ● are under the required age to do jobs in dangerous environments ● are paid less than minimum wage
● are not even supposed to be in this country (illegal immigrants) Many of these companies would not be the first place you would look for illegal workers. One such company that was thriving from its illegal ventures was the Agriprocessors Inc. Kosher Slaughterhouse and Meats Packing Plant in Postville, Iowa. The so called “religious” CEO, Sholom Rubashkin was involved in many behind the counter activities. Besides the $35 million dollars he gained illegally through bank fraud, he was a strong supporter of child labor. His company helped provide fake documents for children who were either under-aged or illegal immigrants, so that they would be able to work for him. Kids as young as 13 were working on slippery, blood-covered floors, using ban-saws and other such limb-removing equipment to cut up livestock.
They had little of the proper safety equipment. They were mostly paid minimum wage, but there were some kids that were paid “behind the counter” to do “low risk jobs, such as cleaning floors or transporting materials. What is now known as the Postville Raid, occurred in 2008. A large scale raid was performed by Homeland Security and the CIA. It resulted in over 400 arrests of both adult, and child illegal immigrant workers (pictures below). This is just one company that took advantage of children in need. There are many more out there that haven’t been caught. Not all companies that hire children use illegal child labor. There are plenty of organizations that help kids find jobs that will suit them and are actually able to do. One example of these organizations is Youth Employment Services with IYB. There are also businesses that hire older teens to do jobs such as running a cash register, or restocking shelves.
Two examples of businesses that hire older teens are Wegmans and Rite Aid.
The circumstances that caused the Postville Raid, were not at all uncommon in the early 20th century. Many children worked in dangerous environments, doing difficult jobs for very little pay. At one point, 19% of all children in the US had jobs. There were many types of jobs for children. They could work in mines, factories, mills, farms, and food processing. They worked long shifts (12 hours was common) and were lucky if they make 80 cents in that time. The government passed few laws regarding these issues at the time. Today’s government is doing its best to shut down any company or business that uses illegal child labor.
The problem is that these illegal activities are getting harder and harder to spot. It used to be that children needed to worry about bad working conditions. In modern times, children are being used in downright illegal activities. For example, children are used to transport/smuggle illegal goods throughout the United States. In general, the issues of child labor have changed since the 1900’s. The main difference that separates the modern era from the 20th century, is the existence of laws that protect children and prevent them from performing dangerous jobs.
The pictures below are from the Postville Raid. I learned about it from a show I saw on the Discovery channel. There may be a documentary on netflix. if you are at all interested, I would highly recommend watching it.