Child Labor:

Labor Can Strengthen Its Efforts to Protect Children Who Work

GAO-02-880: Published: Sep 27, 2002. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 2002.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Robert E. Robertson
(202) 512-9889
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

In 2001, almost 40 percent of all 16- and 17-year-olds in the United States and many 14- and 15-year-olds worked at some time in the year. Children in the United States are often encouraged to work, and many people believe that children benefit from early work experiences by developing independence, confidence, and responsibility. However, the public also wants to ensure that the work experiences of young people enhance, rather than harm, their future opportunities. The number and characteristics of working children have changed little over the past decade. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, as in 1990, as many as 3.7 million children aged 15 to 17 worked in 2001. The number of children who die each year from work-related injuries has changed little since 1992, but the number of children who incurred nonfatal injuries while working is more difficult to determine because data from different sources provide different estimates of the number of injuries and trends over time. The Department of Labor devotes many resources to ensuring compliance with the child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, including conducting nationwide campaigns designed to increase public awareness of the provisions, but its compliance efforts suffer from limitations that may prevent adequate enforcement of the law.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) agreed with this recommendation and took several actions to implement it. Specifically, WHD (1) developed internal guidance on the assessment of civil monetary penalties for child labor violations, (2) developed and distributed updated guidance in its Field Operations Handbook, and (3) requested funds in its FY 2006 budget request for a legislative increase in child labor civil monetary penalties.

    Recommendation: To provide WHD's regional and district offices with the information they need to properly plan and implement their child labor compliance efforts, the Secretary of Labor should provide better guidance to WHD's regional and district offices on how to improve employer compliance and specific guidance on when to assess penalties for child labor violations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) agreed with and addressed this recommendation. The agency supported the idea of beginning new cohorts of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Consequently, they conducted an assessment of the feasibility of expanding the Current Population Survey (CPS). They also identified the funds and resources they would need to enhance their data collection.

    Recommendation: To strengthen WHD's ability to evaluate the effectiveness of its child labor compliance efforts and ensure that limited resources are used in the most effective manner, the Secretary of Labor should consider enhancing the data collected on children who work by expanding the Current Population Survey to include 14-year olds or beginning additional cohorts of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth at regular intervals, such as every 5 years.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) agreed with the recommendation. It noted that it had developed reports from its database on FY 2002 child labor violations and disseminated these reports to its district offices. It added that these reports were updated with information from FY 2003.

    Recommendation: To strengthen WHD's ability to evaluate the effectiveness of its child labor compliance efforts and ensure that limited resources are used in the most effective manner, the Secretary of Labor should routinely obtain and review data from its investigations database on the number and types of investigations conducted by WHD's district offices and child labor violations found and use these data to (1) ensure that WHD's resources are deployed in the most effective manner and (2) hold regional and local offices accountable at the national level for ensuring that all children nationwide are protected under the child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Labor stated that it obtains data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which it uses to plan and allocate its child labor resources. During its review, however, GAO found that the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) uses this data in only a limited manner and could benefit from obtaining and using these data on a routine basis. BLS, however, stated that sample size limitations limit the amount of statistically meaningful data on 15- to 17-year-olds that could be used to target WHD's child labor compliance efforts. BLS also stated that using data from the Current Population Survey as an enforcement tool would require it to disaggregate the data at a level that would jeopardize the confidentiality of the participants, and that such disaggregation would set a precedent that could cause serious damage to the program. This was not GAO's intention and GAO disagrees that such disaggregation would be required. The estimates that GAO (and other researchers) developed on the number of children employed illegally in the U.S. were made using aggregate CPS data and could be used similarly by WHD in targeting its efforts.

    Recommendation: To strengthen WHD's ability to evaluate the effectiveness of its child labor compliance efforts and ensure that limited resources are used in the most effective manner, the Secretary of Labor should routinely obtain data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on the industries, occupations, and locations in which children work--both legally and illegally--and sustain work-related injuries and use them to target WHD's child labor compliance efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Labor stated that its Wage and Hour Division (WHD) conducted "recidivism" investigation initiatives in FY 2003, in which grocery stores and full-service restaurants with repeat child labor violations are being targeted. WHD is also conducting a child labor compliance "survey" in FY 2004, involving investigations of a statistically valid sample of grocery stores, full-service restaurants, and quick-service restaurants to determine their compliance with the child labor provisions of the law. WHD will compare the results of these investigations to the results of similar investigations conducted in FY 2000 to determine whether the compliance rate has increased or decreased. WHD has also been working with a consultant to develop measures for assessing the success of its compliance assistance activities, including education and outreach. In December 2004, Labor received a report on a telephone survey conducted by Westat to determine the impact of its employer pocket guide on youth employment.

    Recommendation: To strengthen WHD's ability to evaluate the effectiveness of its child labor compliance efforts and ensure that limited resources are used in the most effective manner, the Secretary of Labor should develop methods of measuring WHD's child labor compliance efforts, including its education and outreach activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) established specific program goals for its child labor enforcement efforts, beginning with its FY 2003 Performance Plan. These goals included: (1) maintaining or increasing the percentage of grocery stores, full-service restaurants, and quick-service restaurants in compliance with the child labor provisions of the law; (2) decreasing the percentage of grocery stores and full-service restaurants with repeat child labor violations by two percent; (3) increasing child labor compliance through locally targeted initiatives; and (4) improving public awareness of child labor laws.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the Wage and Hour Division's (WHD) ability to evaluate the effectiveness of its child labor compliance efforts and ensure that limited resources are used in the most effective manner, the Secretary of Labor should establish additional specific, measurable goals for WHD's child labor compliance efforts for industries in which children are most likely to be injured or killed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Labor agreed that WHD's managers and investigators should be able to easily retrieve data from the database it uses to maintain information on child labor violations. WHD implemented a new reporting program, Business Objects, which allows WHD staff to obtain standardized reports on child labor violations. The agency provided training to an Information Technology Specialist in each region on the new system in April 2004 and made the system available to all staff in February 2005.

    Recommendation: To provide WHD's regional and district offices with the information they need to properly plan and implement their child labor compliance efforts, the Secretary of Labor should provide training to all WHD staff on how to obtain information from the investigations database.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 22, 2016

Sep 15, 2016

Aug 15, 2016

Aug 1, 2016

Jun 20, 2016

Jun 13, 2016

May 25, 2016

Apr 14, 2016

Mar 10, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here