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How Many Kids Grew the Food You Ate Today?

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I certainly understand that everyone is paying attention to the nightly treason of Uday and Qusay Trump, but it’s at least worth noting that the Trump Department of Labor will do absolutely nothing about the kids working in North Carolina fields to pick your food, except possibly deport them to their deaths.

Every year, North Carolina relies on roughly 80,000 farmworkers to harvest tobacco, sweet potatoes, Christmas trees, fruit, cucumbers and vegetables. They also work on hog and poultry farms and in factories, greenhouses and nurseries. Some advocacy groups put that number closer to 150,000.

These workers, mostly Latino migrants and immigrants, make up an invisible workforce that puts food on dinner tables and props up the state’s economy. Agriculture contributes $84 billion annually to North Carolina’s economy and comprises more than 17 percent of the state’s income, according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

They receive little pay, and the work is hot, thankless and sometimes dangerous and unsanitary. The government and some tobacco companies have made improvements, but some say little change has trickled down.

Some of these immigrant workers are children, although no one knows for sure how many.

Most industries won’t hire workers under 14 and establish specific time restrictions for youth, but under federal labor laws children 12 and older can work in agriculture without a work permit for an unlimited number of hours outside of school with permission from a parent.

If their parent is employed on a farm or gives them permission, kids under 12 can work in nonhazardous jobs on farms exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act minimum wage. Children aged 10 or 11 can work in short-season crops under specific waivers granted by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Employers who violate child labor laws could be forced to pay up to $10,000 to the U.S. Department of Labor for each underage employee. But not all farmers follow the rules and may never be caught, depending on whether their farm is inspected and oftentimes whether their fields are visible to drivers.

“You can barely spot us, because we’re really small and short,” Castillo said. “There’s still a lot of 7-, 12-, 13-year-olds working. I don’t think it’s ever going to change.”

Pretty awful. Some of the problem lies with the fascists in the North Carolina legislature. But it’s not as if the Obama administration really addressed this issue either.

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