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Illegal Child Labor in the United States: Prevalence and Characteristics


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  • Douglas Kruse
  • Douglas Mahony
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    This study provides the first comprehensive estimates of children and youth working under conditions that violate federal and state child labor laws. Using the CPS, NLS, and other sources, it is estimated that 148,000 minors are employed illegally in an average week working too many hours or in hazardous occupations and 290,000 are employed illegally at some point during a year. The total number of hours worked illegally is about 113 million per year, for which these minors are paid over $560 million. Whites, males, and 15-year-olds are the most likely to be working in violation of child labor laws. Youths working illegally in hazardous jobs earn on average $1.38 per hour less than legal young adults in the same occupations, which combined with the savings from employing youths for excessive hours adds up to a total employer cost savings of roughly $155 million per year. In addition to raising important policy concerns about the health and well-being of these youths, the findings make a case for the development of high-quality employment data on children and youths, to improve estimates of illegal employment and study its effects.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6479.

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    Date of creation: Mar 1998
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    Publication status: published as Kruse, Douglas L. and Douglas Mahony. "Illegal Child Labor In The United States: Prevalence And Characteristics," International Labor Relations Review, 2000, v54(1,Oct), 17-40.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6479

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    1. Richard B. Freeman & James L. Medoff, 1982. "Why Does the Rate of Youth Labor Force Activity Differ across Surveys?," NBER Chapters, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, in: The Youth Labor Market Problem: Its Nature, Causes, and Consequences, pages 75-114 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Holleran Philip M., 1993. "Child Labor and Exploitation in Turn-of-the-Century Cotton Mills," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 485-500, October.
    3. Parsons, Donald O & Goldin, Claudia, 1989. "Parental Altruism and Self-Interest: Child Labor among Late Nineteenth-Century American Families," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, Western Economic Association International, vol. 27(4), pages 637-59, October.
    4. Kathleen Stanley, 1992. "Immigrant and Refugee Workers in the Midwestern Meatpacking Industry: Industrial Restructuring and the Transformation of Rural Labor Markets," Review of Policy Research, Policy Studies Organization, Policy Studies Organization, vol. 11(2), pages 106-117, 06.
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    Cited by:
    1. Kaushik Basu, 1999. "Child Labor: Cause, Consequence, and Cure, with Remarks on International Labor Standards," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 37(3), pages 1083-1119, September.
    2. Drusilla K. Brown & Alan V. Deardorff & Robert M Stern, 2002. "The Effects of Multinational Production on Wages and Working Conditions in Developing Countries," Working Papers, Research Seminar in International Economics, University of Michigan 486, Research Seminar in International Economics, University of Michigan.
    3. Drusilla K. Brown & Alan V. Deardorff & Robert M. Stern, 2001. "U.S. Trade and Other Policy Options and Programs to Deter Foreign Exploitation of Child Labor," NBER Chapters, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, in: Topics in Empirical International Economics: A Festschrift in Honor of Robert E. Lipsey, pages 233-262 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.


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