Child Labor:

Increases in Detected Child Labor Violations Throughout the United States

HRD-90-116: Published: Apr 30, 1990. Publicly Released: May 4, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on child labor violations, focusing on: (1) national, regional, and state data on child labor violations; (2) work-place fatalities, injuries, and illnesses suffered by child workers; and (3) the Department of Labor's (DOL) child labor enforcement activities.

GAO found that: (1) Labor detected 22,500 illegally employed minors in fiscal year (FY) 1989, up from over 9,200 in FY 1983; (2) Labor officials said low unemployment rates, which led to a shortage of adult workers in some areas, and Labor's increased emphasis on child labor issues caused the increase in detected violations; (3) the number of minors working illegally in 1989 was higher than in 1983 in all 10 regions and in 42 states; (4) nationwide, Labor detected most illegally employed minors in the retail and service industries, particularly in restaurants and grocery stores; (5) the percentage of illegally employed minors in retail industries ranged from 45 to 92 percent among the 10 regions in 1989, and at least 45 percent of all illegally employed minors in over 40 states worked in the retail industry in 1989; (6) the increase in violations occurred in all types of child labor standards, including hours, minimum age, and hazardous duty restrictions; and (7) 31,500 children under age 18 suffered work-related injuries and illnesses in 26 states during 1988. GAO also found that Labor agencies have agreed to improve enforcement coordination and provide better protection for all child workers.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress increased the maximum monetary penalty for non-willful child labor law violations to $10,000 in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, enacted on October 26, 1990. In March 1991, Labor revised its regulations to implement the new maximum penalty.

    Matter: If DOL administrative actions do not result in penalties sufficient to deter child labor violations, Congress may wish to consider legislative changes to set higher penalties.


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