Arkansas Republican Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a law that would make it significantly easier for children to work by rolling back permit and age verification requirements for workers under the age of 16.
Gov. Sanders signs law making it easier to hire children
The new law, called the Youth Hiring Act of 2023, changes requirements so that children under 16 are no longer required to get the Division of Labor’s permission to be employed. Secondly, the state is no longer required to verify the age of those under 16 before they are hired, NPR reports.
The new law has triggered a wave of criticism for Sanders as it removes a decades-long provision requiring workers under the age of 16 in Arkansas to obtain a permit to work.
In addition to removing the work permit requirement, children are not required to have their parent’s consent to work, BuzzFeed News reported.
“The Governor believes protecting kids is most important, but this permit was an arbitrary burden on parents to get permission from the government for their child to get a job,” Sanders’ communication director said in a statement. “All child labor laws that actually protect children still apply and we expect businesses to comply just as they are required to do now.”
Law still has limits on children’s ages, work types, and hours
Despite how the law sounds on its surface, in practice, the law will mainly apply to those who are 14 and 15 years old, as in most cases, Arkansas hiring laws still prohibit businesses from employing children under the age of 14.
Further, the new law does not change the types of jobs or hours that children are allowed to work.
Other states pushing similar bills
Bills in other states come as businesses are looking to fill an economic need in a tight labor market. A bill in Minnesota is aimed at allowing some teenagers to work in construction, while another bill in Iowa seeks to allow some teenagers to work in meatpacking plants.
In 2022, New Jersey expanded the number of hours teens can work.
Proponents defend Arkansas bill and those in other states
Supporters say the new law removes a tedious requirement that made it more difficult for minors to quickly obtain a job while streamlining the hiring process for minors. It also allows parents – instead of the government – to make decisions about their children, CNN reported.
Rising tide of child labor law violations
Opponents say the work certificates, like those in Arkansas, protect vulnerable youth from exploitation. They argue such bills come amid a tide of violations and labor laws that have more than tripled since 2015. Critics fault federal regulators for failing to keep promises to crack down on businesses that are employing minors in hazardous occupations.
Last month, the Biden administration announced plans to crack down on labor exploitation of migrant children, likely prompted by an investigation by the New York Times.