Fast food chains lead in child labor violations

Today’s resilient U.S. job market has a bit of a dark side. The number of youth employed in violation of federal child labor standards has more than doubled in the last five years, according to data from the Department of Labor. That’s as a number of states are loosening child labor laws.

The Department of Labor found hundreds of workplaces in violation of these laws that protect minors, affecting nearly 4,000 kids. Fast food restaurants McDonald’s, Subway and Dunkin Donuts had the most violations, according to 2022 data.

“Many franchisees across many states have been investigated,” said Nina Mast with the Economic Policy Institute. She said fast food restaurants have been dinged for working kids too many hours and in violation of protections against hazardous work.

“Particularly around the use of manual deep fat fryers and other hazardous equipment in the fast food industry,” Mast added.

Mast’s research found that in the last two years, at least ten states have passed or have pushed looser child labor laws.

That includes lifting safety restrictions and extending work hours, which can hurt child development, said Dartmouth professor Eric Edmonds.

“If you’re working eight hours at best, you’re getting home then at 11,” Edmonds said. “That’s with no extracurriculars, no social development, no time to eat.”

He said children who work unsafe or unhealthy jobs are often from poor households — and some may even be coerced.

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