Child-Labor Laws Don't Work for Industry - or Anyone Else

Article excerpt

A boy works from dawn to dusk in rural Georgia, and he's only 13 years old. Is this "child labor"? Well, yes, and he loves it. This youngster sells corn and tomatoes at a roadside stand, and he's so proud that the buttons almost pop off his overalls. He reads or plays when there are no customers, and his mother makes him rest after lunch, but otherwise he's selling.

During the course of the summer, he'll earn more than $500 to buy his own school clothes and the new baseball glove he wants. Thank goodness one of his customers isn't Robert Reich, for Reich's Department of Labor is attacking young people's work. In the process, it has fined some illustrious enterprises -- Hardee's, Burger King, Publix Super Markets, A&P and Winn-Dixie -- $4 million and subjected them to a vicious media caricature. All have been bilked and humiliated for keeping kids off the streets.

Some of the most important lessons in life are learned in a job, whether you live on the farm or in the city. You learn to follow instructions, to be polite, to come in on time, to show up on the days you should, to serve the consumer and to cooperate with others -- as a market economy demands. Most important, young people learn the connection between work and reward. The harder they work at the entry level, the more they will be paid and the more responsibilities they will be given.

This lesson is especially important for poor kids. It makes no sense, economic or moral, to cut them out of the market.

The drones at the Labor Department don't understand this, of course, or if they do, they couldn't care less. So they impose whole libraries of arcane requirements on business.

Federal regulations say, for example, that a 15-year-old can't work more than three hours a night during the week. If he gets out of school at 3 p.m., he can work until dinnertime, but no longer. (Then he goes home and hits the books, right? Or perhaps he gets involved in less-constructive activities.) But what if a youngster wants to study after school, eat dinner, and then go to work? Big Brother says he can't. And what about a business that needs his help? …