Thank a Democrat: Stopping Child Labor

In his latest “Thank a Democrat” post, Mike Atherton maintains that even in this day and age, some conservatives argue for relaxing child labor restrictions.


America has a shameful history of exploiting children as common laborers. Children as young as 5 at one time worked 14-hour days. Why? Bottom line thinkers offered lots of reasons. Children are more manageable, cheaper, and less likely to strike than adults. Their small dexterous hands and bodies fit nicely into factory machinery to clear thread or clean parts. If injuries occurred bosses easily blamed the child for the accident. And lots of accidents occurred. After all, children were employed in textile factories, mines, and glass factories, where they had dangerous, monotonous, and low paying jobs.


Child laborers seldom make good students or students at all. In 1836 Massachusetts was an enlightened state to declare that their child factory workers must attend 3 months of school per year. And that was better than any other state. In 1842 Massachusetts again stood up for children by “limiting” children to 10 hours work per day. Again, this was better than other states.

Readers may think this is ancient history. Not so. In 2012, Newt Gingrich fulminated about the need to relax child labor laws so we could employ children as school janitors. In 2016 the Acton Institute, supported by Betsy De Vos, called child exploitation “a gift our kids can handle.” Trump nominated Stephen Moore for the Federal Reserve. At the 2016 GOP convention Moore said: “I’d get rid of these child labor laws. I want people starting work at 11, 12.” This occurred in 2016! Trump constantly tried to weaken protections for child laborers.


So you see, attempts to exploit children remain with us and will crop up again unless (1) we remain vigilant and (2) we support the only party that has a proud history of consistently and energetically protecting our children: Democrats.


Only the Democrats realized that government action, not the vagaries of the market, combined with education to serve our children best. If you think children belong in school and not hustling on a factory floor, scrabbling in a mine, or enduring the deafening noise of glass factories, then Thank a Democrat.


About the author:


John Michael Atherton (Mike) has retired from 30 years of teaching philosophy (after 20 years of teaching a variety of subjects from elementary to graduate school). Four years in the Peace Corps in Swaziland (now Eswatini), followed by marriage, first child, and PhD all at the University of Chicago. Moved to Southwest Pennsylvania where wife Cynthia Walter taught ecology and he taught philosophy while they raised two daughters. Moved to Dover in 2019 to be near their two grandsons in Maine. He has consistently found the Dems to be a group that publicly and privately follows their stated values: compassion, honesty, integrity, respect the dignity of all people, expanded freedom, responsible citizenship, promoting civil society, and protecting our environment. Just add that they are great fun to be around and you have a winning combination.

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