Fault Lines’s Wab Kinew investigates how children are hired by US agriculture to help put food on America’s tables. US child labor law is generally considered one of the strongest in the world in preventing minors from working in dangerous industries but, the agricultural sector is a lone exception.
On farms children as young as 12-years old can legally work with parental approval. But many other children younger than that are often found in the fields working illegally. Nobody knows the true number of children at work in the fields, but farmers reported hiring over two hundred thousand children under 18, in one year alone. Migrant farmworker families are oftentimes have little choice but to have their children work harvesting crops. In effect, their children miss school, change school districts, and fall behind in their curriculums. A large majority of migrant children won’t graduate from high school or college and will likely fall into the cycle of poverty. For years the federal government – both Congress and the US Dept. of Labor — have considered legislation and new regulations raising the legal age for children to work on farms with migrant children in mind. But they’ve been largely unpopular. Lobbyists for large farming interests and US congressmen have successfully pushed the bill off of the national agenda. In this episode, Fault Lines travels to the onion fields of Texas, and the tobacco fields of Kentucky, to investigate how child labor affects migrant families, and who benefits from their work.
5 things you need to know about child labor in U.S. agriculture
Background reading for Fault Lines’ Children at Work episode.
For children of migrant workers, choice can be the field or the car
With nowhere else to go, farmworkers’ kids end up working beside their parents