Child Labor During the Industrial Revolution

During the Industrial Revolution in the United States, child labor was often used to fill the many new jobs. Children were being exploited in the work place: they could be paid a much cheaper wage. They worked long hours in unsafe working conditions, often at the expense of getting an education.

Children worked in many areas, such as mines, the textile industry, agriculture, and as newsboys, shoe shiners, and peddlers. Many poor families had no choice but to send their children to work in order to feed the family.

Here are some examples of the poor conditions. Children often worked twelve-hour days, 5-6 days a week, in mills with no ventilation. Broken bones were common in the coalmines. Children as young as six worked seasonal job in canneries, starting their day at 3 a.m.

By the late 1800s, over 1,000 laws regulating work conditions and limiting or forbidding child labor had been passed. Some of these laws did not apply to immigrants and their children. Supporters of child labor argued that it was beneficial to national economic growth and development. Some states passed laws to prohibit child labor in factories, but factory managers ignored the laws. Sometimes children lied about their ages in order to work to help their families. Seattle newsboys organized in 1892 and even went on strike to improve wages.

Almost three-quarters of all child laborers worked in agriculture on land that did not belong to their families. Living conditions were harsh. Children worked late into the evening, often without a meal break.

In 1904, the National Child Labor Committee was established. Its main goal was to promote federal child labor legislation that would apply to all children. It also fought for free, mandatory education for all children.

The Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 finally required that children must be at least sixteen years old in order to work for full-time hours. Children were no longer allowed to help make products that were transported across states.

Source: Child Labor During the Industrial Revolution
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