By Susan Feiner
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
It's Equal Pay Day, a time to remember those 600 extra hours that women work each year to catch up with male wages. For female teens exploitation at work is advancing, as GOP lawmakers in several states try to relax child labor laws.
And it doesn't appear that they know much about the risks that young women run in the workplace.
Professor Susan Fineran, a colleague here at the University of Southern Maine's Women and Gender Studies Program, shared her research just this week at a Department of Education conference in Washington, D.C. She found that 35 percent of students surveyed reported that they'd been sexually harassed on the job during the school year.
Letting young women work one more hour at night is almost sure to widen that sexual-harassment window. Maybe that's the desired result? Why else would Missouri Republicans advocate letting children under 16 work in any capacity in a motel, resort or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished? Currently such work is tightly regulated.
Missouri parents should be worried for other reasons too. The new budget just passed by the Republican-controlled House eliminates investigators who examine child labor complaints. In 2010, those investigators discovered more than $450,000 in violations of Missouri's child labor laws and recovered more than $700,000 for workers from minimum and prevailing wage violations.
These fines are a tiny fraction of actual wage and hour violations. Nationally and in every state child labor laws are barely enforced. In North Carolina, for example, of employed teens nearly 37 percent reported a violation of the hazardous occupations orders, such as prohibited jobs or use of equipment, 40 percent reported a work permit violation, 15 percent reported working off the clock and 11 percent reported working past the latest hour allowed on a school night, according to the American Journal of Public Health study.
No wonder hundreds of thousands of 16- and 17-year-old workers are injured on the job every year. In 2006, 70 teens died from on-the-job injuries.
In spite of all this, a trio of conservative groups (Generation Joshua Project, the Home School Legal Defense Association and Parentsrights.org) oppose the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
What could be next? How about shortening the school day and using school buses to drop teens at their sub-minimum wage jobs?
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Susan F. Feiner is professor of economics and professor of women and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.
"US Child Labor Violations in the Retail and Service Industries: Findings From a National Survey of Working Adolescents" study:
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