By Kate Scanlon
(OSV News) — Iowa is poised to enact legislation that loosens its child labor protections, a trend in some Republican-led states that has prompted concern from some Catholic leaders.
Iowa is poised to enact Senate File 542, which would permit teenagers to work more hours per day and later at night. It also would permit 16- and 17-year-olds to serve alcohol in restaurants with parental permission. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is expected to sign the measure.
Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, told OSV News on May 8 that the group “registered to monitor the bill and contacted legislators in support of exclusions to make sure that people under 18 could not work in the most dangerous occupations such as meatpacking or mining.”
“There was a loophole in the original version of the legislation that could have allowed exceptions, but that was corrected,” Chapman added.
Rep. Dave Deyoe, the bill’s sponsor in the House, told the Des Moines Register that youth employment leads to “less poverty, money for future education, less delinquent behavior, experience in the workplace and access to mentors and role models, and finally, access to careers that may mean a more successful future.”
Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas signed into law March 8 the Youth Hiring Act of 2023, which eliminates state age verification for children younger than 16 seeking a job. Similar efforts are gaining traction with other Republican state lawmakers. The Washington Post reported in April that the Foundation for Government Accountability, a Florida-based think tank and lobbying group, drafted state legislation to end some child workplace protections.
But the trend has prompted concern from some Catholic leaders. On its website, the Catholic Labor Network stated that “it is hard to believe that in the twenty-first century child labor would be a problem in the United States.”
“Yet recent developments have demonstrated that this is indeed the case, and that there are elected officials in the United States who would like to expand its scope,” the website said.
The U.S. Labor Department reported in February it has approximately 600 ongoing child labor investigations, marking a 69% increase in the number of children illegally employed since 2018. In the last fiscal year, the department said Feb. 27, it found 835 companies it investigated had employed more than 3,800 children in violation of labor laws. The department called for Congress to take action in a Feb. 27 statement, telling lawmakers, “the challenge of child labor exploitation — particularly of migrant children — increases nationwide.”
Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, who was still in the role at the time, said Feb. 27 that child labor “is a today problem” and called on Congress and states to “come to the table.”
“This is a problem that will take all of us to stop,” Walsh said.