The National Backdrop of Ohio’s Child Labor Laws

Varnika Mena


 On March 8, the Ohio Senate passed Senate Bill 30: a bill that, according to the official summary,  “allows persons under 16 to work after 7 p.m. during the school year.” Senators like Tim Schaeffer, who sponsored the bill, claim that this will support “adequate staffing,” while another senator said, “…by working 10 or 15 hours a week, and getting that paycheck and that gratification, [minors] have self worth.”


However, this bill comes at an interesting time, when child labor in the United States has been under more scrutiny than ever. According to a February report from the U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, the number of minors employed in violation of child labor laws as of 2022 has more than tripled since 2015. 


Many of the minors caught up in these child labor law violations are immigrants from the Southern border. Children who are working to make money and survive, instead of being able to focus on school.  “It’s not like the foster care system where there’s a social worker who’s going to be checking up on these kids […] if things go wrong,” said New York Times investigative journalist Hannah Dreier in an interview with NPR. After being released from a shelter, many immigrant children are left with a sponsor to care for them, but nothing after that. 


This leaves these children looking for ways to make money before they can even consider going to school. Drieier’s investigative journalism has exposed that many of these kids work indirectly for household brands through staffing agencies. The fact that they are not direct employees of this company makes it easier for the companies to claim ignorance when questioned. When Dreier went to such corporations with these reports, they simply denied any knowledge of these situations. This plausible deniability allows companies to stretch their working hours and ignore the danger that comes with working such jobs. NPR reports cases of child worker deaths where the companies faced little to no repercussions. 


The companies that use this loophole the most are the same companies that will be harmed the least by the existing punishment for child labor law violations. “I was surprised to learn that child labor is almost never a criminal offense. It’s a civil issue, and the maximum fine is $15,000,” said Dreier. Considering the average rate of revenue generated by big corporations, that amount of money can be made up in a matter of hours. There is no real incentive to change. 


Companies aren’t the only ones acting surprised. When Dreier brought her findings to the Department of Health and Human Services, she got the same response from the companies: that they didn’t know this was happening in the United States. “I found these children working in all 50 states,” Dreier said about the incident. “They were not hard to find. And so I have wondered, could it really be that nobody had any clue that this was happening?”


With exploitation like this being pushed to the background of public attention, states have started to propose bills justifying longer hours for younger kids. In early March, Arkansas signed a bill that eliminates the need for official work permits for children as young as 14. Work permits and other official paperwork are very important pieces in identifying child labor law violations, and bills such as this one will make the job of federal officers much harder. 


When it comes to the Ohio law, many senators frame a very different picture. “These are very independent children that want to become adults,” said Senator Michael Rulli. Ohio senators are gearing these laws towards middle-class teenagers, painting a picture of part-time workers focused on getting out of high school and chasing a profitable career path. What is not being considered is the growing trend of modifications to child labor laws across the country that ultimately allow big corporations to exploit minors even further. 


Issues linking immigration and labor don’t often come to mind in the middle of the Midwest. Politics aside, it is easy to see that while the Senate bill in Ohio may not directly cause any of the situations described, it is a domino in the greater chain of laws that build up to take advantage of child workers in today’s economy.