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Child Labor: Then and Now

by Kara Kunst

With the poor immigrants entering the United States, immigrants were forced to find a way to pay off their debts. In many cases the whole family was forced to find work in order to support the family. Even children were forced to find work in their new homeland. Most of the incoming immigrants worked in factories and mills as well as, coalmines. The immigrants were willing to work anywhere that they could receive a job to pay of their outstanding debts. The immigrant factory workers worked for sometimes over 16 hour days and had only a lunch break during the day. The immigration has revolutionized the factory industry and has forced the government to make and maintain a child labor law.

When immigrants first came to America the thought was that they would not have to work as much, instead even the children have to give up an education to support the family. The many jobs of the incoming immigrant female children were to work in cotton mills making clothes and looming blankets. For the males they would be sent to work in coalmines and hat factories. These children would have to give up learning an education and would instead spend long hours at work sewing or mining for coal. Most of the children in the factories ranged in age from as young as 8 to the age of 16. The money that the children received was very minimal and sometimes only resulted in sometimes less than a dollar a month. Employers did not mind having children work for them because it was cheap labor that made their business successful

Today, there is a new labor law that says that a child must be 16 years old in order to obtain a job. They must also have a proof of employment signed by their employer that states that they in fact will be receiving a job and will be paid at least the minimum wage. As of January 1, 2000 the new minimum wage was changed from $5.65 to $6.15 dollars an hour. If an employer is caught hiring a child that is younger than 16 and paying them less then the minimum wage, the employer may be held accountable for child labor.

Even though there is a new child labor law, there are still children in the United States that work illegally to support their family. These children are often paid under the table, which means that they are paid in cash by the employer without the government having any knowledge of the child labor. Close to 6 million children in the United States work illegally. Many of the children are recent Hispanic immigrants that work for farmers in the mid west. They are forced by their families to pick corn and harvest crops for the farmers in order to survive in America. Many of the packaged foods that we eat have been hand picked by children in the United States. The U.S. government has done its best at abolishing child labor, however it still exists.