Tuesday, April 23, 2024

On the shortage of Labor, Especially Children

On April 1, 2024 Washington Post reporter Lauren Gurley wrote yet another story of politicians promoting child labor: “America is divided over major efforts to rewrite child labor laws.” The Post has previously published stories on child labor such as February 11, March 8, April 23, and April 30, 2023.

Corporate America’s relentless effort to exploit children goes back many decades. Congress passed the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act back in 1916, an age when the courts would not do anything to impede corporate America in their eternal quest for cheap labor. Child welfare reformers tried to use the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution to prohibit the transportation of products through interstate commerce for products produced with child labor.

Use of the commerce clause was a legal strategy intended to satisfy the judicial review they were certain would come. In previous cases the Supreme Court repeatedly ruled that the commerce clause of the constitution provided Congress with the necessary power to regulate interstate commerce. Even though the court previously upheld a ban on the interstate transportation of adulterated drugs, and another banning the interstate sale of lottery tickets, and still another banning the interstate transportation of women for immoral purposes, the justices searched for previously unheard of excuses to undo child labor legislation.

In the Supreme Court case known as Hammer v. Dagenhart the court wrote that the interstate transportation of adulterated drugs, lottery tickets, and prostitutes created “harmful results” but the new law that restricted children under 14 from working more than 8 hours a day, or more than 6 days a week, or before 6 a.m. or after 7 p.m. in textile mills did not create “harmful results” and was therefore beyond the power of Congress to regulate. In the wrap up to their long and convoluted written opinion of June 3, 1918 the justices declared the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act “repugnant” to the constitution.

The Post’s April 1 review reported a long list of child labor law violations with under age teens working long hours doing hazardous work that state and federal labor law prohibits for minors. Not to worry, just change the law as did Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds. She signed a new law that allows minors in that state to work in industrial laundries, light manufacturing, demolition, roofing and excavation. Ms. Gurley also mentions the Florida-based lobbying group, the Foundation for Government Accountability, that fights to restrict access to anti-poverty programs as well as drafting legislation to end child labor protections. This groups fits perfectly into Florida where Governor DeSantis signed a new law that allows 16 and 17 year olds to work seven days in a row and removes all hours restrictions for teens in online school or home school, effectively permitting them to work overnight shifts.

Current Population Survey data proves a plentiful supply of labor. The Bureau of the Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics report the civilian population since 1990 was up every year with an annual growth rate of 1.05 percent. A growing population allows an increase in the supply of labor, but the actual increase depends on the numbers who enter the labor force. In 2023, an adult civilian population of 266.9 million people supplied 167.1 million adults to the labor force, leaving 99.8 million adults not in the labor force (NLF); adults not children. Those not in the labor force can change their mind and enter the labor force to look for work and become part of the labor supply.

In the ten years from 2013 leading through 2023 the adult civilian population increased at .83 percent a year while the labor force increased at a rate of only .73 percent. In the same period the labor force increased at .73 percent the adults not in the labor increased at 1.01 percent.

In a labor shortage we would expect the opposite. In a shortage, the labor force grows faster than population as employers lure some of those 99.8 million adults back into the labor force by offering higher wages and maybe a few benefits as well. We can all conclude that wages and working conditions are substandard and do not generate enough people able or willing to return to the labor force. The United States does not have a shortage of labor; shortages are a myth offered by the cheapskates of corporate America, always trolling for people they can coerce to work for lower wages, including undocumented immigrants and underage children.

No comments: