Tuesday, September 8, 2015

You're 11, Why Aren't You Working Yet?? Child Labor

Since Labor Day is to acknowledge all of us who have worked to make our country strong, I thought we might reflect on how working in this country has changed from its beginning, and especially child labor.

When did you first start working, if you have? How old were you? How many hours did you work? What kind of job did you have?

Did you know that had you been born in the 1800s, you might have been working before you were 10 years old? Perhaps when you were only 5?? True story.

When immigrants came to America with little or no money, they needed everyone in the family to work as much as possible. Often, both parents as well as any family member that could find work would have jobs.

Imagine having to work in a coal mine at the age of 7 or 8. How about in a textile mill, or sewing, or some kind of factory? Possibly shining shoes? As a servant in the house of wealthy people? Sometimes, children were hired into 'live-in' jobs: their parents would have one less to feed if the child was staying in the house where he or she worked.
Little boys processing coal. Coal was burned to provide heat in peoples' houses.

You might literally be running all over town delivering messages or newspapers.

You might just try selling whatever 'merchandise' you could on a street corner: pencils, food, anything that might bring some money into the household.

Working conditions for everyone from child to adult were dangerous in factories and sewing mills. Heavy equipment could cause serious injuries, even death, to anyone working with them.

A girl working in a bottling plant. What are the chances of her being injured by the machines, as compared to an adult?

If your family was farming, you would definitely help with chores--and you may also have worked at neighboring farms for pay. Imagine trying to keep up with everything and not having any kind of power tools, a tractor, or a plow--you needed to do it all by hand, and with the help of horses.

And speaking of pay, children were paid far less than adults for the same work. They worked, many times, 12 or more hours every day--7 days a week....in very bad working conditions. Remember, this was before air conditioning, and before any regulation of work environments existed. Remember also that if you were poor, your lunch brought from home might consist of very poor food--not enough to give you the energy for such hard work. You might have a piece of bread or two with butter, a cup of milk if you were lucky, maybe a potato baked the day before. The few minutes of rest would hardly be enough to prepare you to finish your workday.
It's possible this was a mother and child both working at the same place.

Injured on the job? You would be faced with losing pay, probably losing your job, if  you stayed home to rest. You wouldn't have been able to afford a doctor's care.

In 1836 the first child labor law was enacted by the State of Massachusetts; it stated that any child under the age of 15 must attend school three months out of the year.

In 1842, with adults becoming more and more concerned about child labor, a law was enacted saying that a child could "only" work 10 hours a day. This, unfortunately, was not enforced with any rigor.

In 1892 a law was passed saying you were not allowed to work if you were under the age of 14.

It wasn't until 1938 that there was a Federal law passed to regulate child labor.

Look at these pictures and stories of children who worked before there were any limitations on child labor:

And a video:


Sadly, there are countries today that still use children for cheap labor, from South America to Russia to Nepal and Pakistan.. What does the label in your shirt say? Made in China? How was that item of clothing assembled, and by whom? What about that electronics item? By 'farming out' the labor, some American companies are having their products made cheaper (in some cases children work for 65c a day) so the companies receive more profit.

What products?
  • Fancy rugs are hand-woven......by children, many times.
  • Cocoa-the beans to make chocolate are harvested with child labor
  • Coal is mined by small children in some countries
  • Diamonds are mined by children in South Africa
  • Clothing is assembled by children
  • Rice, cattle, coffee, cotton, tobacco, sugar cane and fish--all harvested using children
  • Gold is mined using children
  • Bricks are manufactured using children
Children making cigarettes

And what companies use child labor? You might be surprised:
  • Apple (circuit boards and other components made in China using child labor)
  • Hershey's Chocolate
  • Victoria's Secret (cotton)
  • Philip Morris Tobacco
  • KYE, which manufactures toys and also electronics for Microsoft-including the Xbox-as well as Nokia and Hewlett-Packard
  • Forever 21
  • Aeropostale
  • Urban Outfitters
  • Toys R Us

This is why it matters that a product is "Made in the USA:" We know the money was paid to American workers, and more importantly, we know it wasn't made off the backs of child workers. 

So consider doing some investigating to see just how that product was made and if you're willing to ignore child labor in order to have it. A little over 100 years ago in this country, that could have been you.




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