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Loosened child labor laws in Iowa puts teenagers at risk

Armaan Bhagwat
Senate File 542 expands the maximum amount of hours 14-year-olds can work on days when school is in session.

An attempt to provide more opportunities in the workforce could put teenagers in danger while clocked in. Iowa Senate File 542, passed in May, loosened restrictions on child labor laws, subsequently placing teenagers at risk of injury and reducing the priority of education.

The bill lengthens the maximum amount of hours a 14-15 year-old can work on a school day, from three to six hours. 16-17 year-olds are permitted to serve and sell alcohol in a work-related setting with the permission of a parent or guardian. Exemptions can now be made for teenagers to work jobs that were previously prohibited for 14-17 year-olds.

Of the many flaws associated with the new file, one stands out: Multiple components of Senate File 542 violate federal laws on child labor. 

Federal law allows teenagers to work hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the school year and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the summer. A maximum of three work hours is permitted for students, 14 years old, during the school year. 

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The new Iowa bill expanded the period of time students can work to 9 p.m at the latest on school days and 11 p.m. in the summer, violating federal regulations. Moreover, 14 year-olds can work up to six hours a day, infringing the three hour maximum stated by federal law.

Sophomore Karthik Ganesh works as a host at Stout’s Irish Pub. “I think increasing the maximum hours a 15 year-old can work might encourage students to work more hours to make more money. With that, it would also lessen the priority of performing well in school for some students, as working more hours would take away time from studying or being able to do other things.”

Ganesh believes there should be a good balance between one’s work schedule and time needed to complete other tasks. “Holding a job position is good for a high school student, because they can learn valuable skills like responsibility or leadership,” Ganesh continued. “But when grades start to slip, or your performance in other things deteriorates, you need to take into consideration how balanced your work-life is with your regular schedule.”

With the change of maximum work hours 14-year-olds can have, academics are undermined. Freshmen and sophomore students should develop the ability to schedule their tasks during this year of high school. When a student from this age group is able to work more hours than the federal law allows, it imposes problems on their ability to create a balanced schedule.

Scheduling work hours can conflict with other activities a student has going on, such as sports, clubs and extracurriculars. On top of that, the copious amount of homework and studying students need to complete in preparation for the next school day can become stressful. The new bill diverts students’ focus from balancing their time, and encourages them to work extra hours.

Counselor Ellie Curtis has dealt with students struggling with scheduling in the past. “The biggest issue that I could see happening is that students might be working longer hours, which then affects sleep and then that affects their school performance and mental health. They also may feel pressured to take on those longer hours and may not have the skills at that young age for themselves to take on those hours,” Curtis expressed.

Furthermore, allowing 14-year-olds to work in prohibited environments, even with a valid exemption, places them at risk of injury or death. These workspaces require dangerous work from employees and oftentimes are associated with demolition, radioactive substances, construction or large machinery.  The following are some of the occupations or establishments prohibited for minors in the state of Iowa: establishments manufacturing or storing explosives, occupation with connection to mining and excavation occupations.

Curtis understands that there are many risks that come with working jobs that are prohibited. “With those jobs, there can be a lot of safety concerns, so it comes down to whether that young person has the skills to advocate for themselves or are they fully aware of all the risks of that job at that age,” Curtis stated.

Regulations were set at the federal level to keep teenagers safe in the workplace while making sure school is also a  priority. To violate such regulations would ultimately endanger the students in a workplace. 

This story was originally published on Spartan Shield on October 6, 2023.