Wisconsin’s Senate has passed a bill that will allow 14-year-olds to work until 11 PM in the evening. They’ve done this in an apparent attempt to “fix the labor shortage” during a pandemic that’s seen the loss of over 700,000 men and women, many of them within working age.
I want to note, this bill has not been passed as a law, however, I want to talk about it because if it passes, this law will have ramifications greater than just “the parent for this kid is up late picking them up.”
First, let’s break down the bill.
On a school night, the bill would allow a 14-year-old to work until 9:30 PM, on a non-school night, the child could work until 11:00 PM. Federal law mandates children stop working at 9pm during the summer, and 7pm for the rest of the year. Children could still only work three hours on a non school day – but Federal law currently allows teens to work eight hours on weekends, and up to six days a week.
Apparently, proponents of the bill (in tourism no less) think that putting teens to work will solve the labor shortage. Obviously, they’ve never worked with teens.
In practice, what this means is they want children to fill low skill, low wage, menial jobs that adults don’t currently want to work, and they want to continue to pay the barest wages possible. For the record, I don’t know full motivations, however, I think the idea that it would “plug the labor shortage” is laughable. I love teens, I work with them, I have 4 of them myself, but getting them to do anything well is a labor of love. Might as well just do it yourself (or pay better wages and have an adult do it).
Obviously, this bill targets teens most in need of work. This means financially disadvantaged teens, or children who are working to help support a family. Yes, this happens, especially if students are citizens, but parents are not.
In practice, keeping a teen until 11 PM, or allowing them to work as early as 6 AM, will impact them socially, emotionally, and academically. They’ll be prevented from completing homework, lose sleep, which will affect their academic performance, and lose valuable social opportunities with friends and family.
All for what? So some hotel can pay a 14 year old 7.25 an hour to clean rooms? So that some restaurant can split tips with a 14 year old bus kid?
There are deep ramifications on an individual level for teens, but also on a societal level. Privileged students already don’t have to work, and if they do – they don’t have to start at 14. They have access to opportunities already. Putting 14 year olds at work until 11 PM will degrade the laws already in place that protect literal children from the greed of corporations. This means a widening of the gap that’s already created between rich and poor.
This is important, and it could set a precedent. It should be noted, and you should fight in your community for labor laws that protect children.