Months into the United States’ so-called “labor shortage”—which progressives and economists have repeatedly said is actually the result of weak worker protections during the coronavirus pandemic and wages that have remained stagnant for decades—Republican lawmakers and pro-business groups across the country are leading an effort to enable companies to fill out their ranks by hiring young teenagers. Most recently, the Republican-led Wisconsin state Senate passed S.B. 332, which would expand “the permissible work hours a minor under 16 years of age may work,” allowing businesses to hire 14- and 15-year-olds to work starting at 6:00am and until as late as 9:30pm on weeknights or 11:00 p.m. on weekend evenings. The bill, which would only apply to companies covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act and that earn more than $500,000 annually, headed to the state Assembly on October 20, sparking outrage among child advocates, workers’ rights groups, and Democratic lawmakers in the state.
“Kids should be doing their homework, being in school instead of working more hours,” state Sen. Bob Wirch (D-Somers) told the Wisconsin Examiner. “So I oppose this bill. And I think it sends us in the wrong direction.”
The bill was supported by groups including the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, and the owners of a local ice cream store chain testified in favor of the measure, saying that allowing 14- and 15-year-old employees to leave work by 7:00pm as they’re currently required to “puts a burden on the remaining teens we employ as they bear the brunt of the work.” Educator Brett Bigham pushed back against the proposal, saying, “Pay a living wage and you won’t need to hire 15 year olds.”
Well yeah, that’s the point! Why pay a living wage when you can dragoon kids into the labor force!