Child Labor in the United States

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ChildLabor in the United States

Childlabor refers to the activities that deprive kids their childhood,dignity, and exposes them to mental or physical harm. However, it isgood to note that not all work subjected to children can be termed aschild labor. The exposure of adolescents or children to activitiesthat do not interfere with their personal development or health is apositive act. For instance, children can help their guardians orparents during holidays to earn a living. Child labor goes to theextreme of separating kids from their relatives and enslaving them.The American industrial revolution led to the intensification ofchild labor in the society (Horrell &amp Humphries 485). Familiesand workers were attracted into urban centers in search of employmentin the established factories and industries. Children were mostlyrecruited to work in the mines and factories because the employersclaimed that they were easy to control, cheaper, and less involved instrikes. The paper discusses the existence of child labor in Americabetween 1820 and 1938.

Approximately75,000 of American children were involved in child labor between 1820and 1870 (Horrell &amp Humphries 485). The children worked inagriculture, mines, canneries, industries glass factories, home, andindustries. Labor unions were, however, developed in the nineteenthcentury that advocated for the government to prevent and eliminatechild labor (Horrell &amp Humphries 487). The efforts of the socialreformers against the practice of child labor led to theestablishment of legislations that hindered exposure of children tosome activities. Despite the enforcement of the policies againstchild labor, a census conducted in 1870 indicated that about 750,000employees who worked in various places were aged 15 years (Horrell &ampHumphries 499). Children were required by their parents to engage inactivities that generated income during the colonial period. AnAmerican Community Survey that focused on the children’s earningsfound out that family income depended mostly on the child labor. Inthe late 19th Century, child labor was still witnessed inindustries, which sparked a controversy. Employers were blamed foremploying kids and forcing them to accomplish exhausting tasks indangerous working environments. Moreover, working class parents alsoinitiated the progress of child labor because they employed childrenin their homes and exposed them to unfavorable conditions (Horrell &ampHumphries 502). In 1837, the first legal policy known asMassachusetts law was developed in America to restrict the employmentof children in various places.

Effects of Industrialization

The Industrial revolution occurred in America between 1820 and 1870.The revolution led to the alteration of the nature of employment formany individuals in the country. Before the American Revolution,employees were involved in activities such as home production,growing crops, working for themselves in various places, and thecreation of raw materials (Horrell &amp Humphries 512). Theoccurrence of the industrial revolution resulted in the developmentof industrial jobs, which made people shift from their previous jobsto the industrial employment. Factory jobs were repetitive andtedious which demanded the employment of energetic individuals.Moreover, workers were exposed to unsanitary and dangerous workingconditions. The unfavorable conditions and long working hoursintensified the use of child labor in the industries. Children werenot likely to resist any form of violation because they were easilyconvinced and tamed to the new environment. Child labor became a veryconcerning economic and social issue in America during the period ofthe industrial revolution. The idea of recruiting kids to work inindustries spread and was accepted in the American society. As aresult, millions of children were subjected to dangerous and intenselabor in various places.

Full-timejobs during the industrial revolution were given to poor children whohelped their families to earn a living. In factories, children agedfour years and above worked for long hours under conditions thataffected their health. Child labor existed throughout the period, butlaws were later enacted that declared the practice illegal. Childrenperformed various jobs including selling newspapers, chimney sweeps,working on machines, and mining coal. Adults were claimed to performpoorly in the industries hence children were preferred to them.Businesses also liked children workers because their pay was littleand in most cases, no compensation was made. For instance, thepayment for children in various factories was about 10 percent of anadult`s wage for a similar job (Horrell &amp Humphries 513). Cheaplabor and reliable labor was the focus of the industrial change thatinfluenced the growth of child employment. Most factories andbusinesses were profit minded and did not mind about the welfare ofthe employees.

Fewgovernment regulations that focused on the working hours andconditions of employees characterized the industrial revolution. As aresult, both adult and children workers were exposed to harmfulconditions and ended up losing physical parts such as limbs onpowered machinery due to their little experience. Moreover, mineswere poorly ventilated, and health problems such as lung diseasesencountered the workers. Estimates indicate that during theindustrial revolution, more than 50 percent of the employees in thevarious factories were aged below 14 years. Efforts were establishedin America in the 19th century that aimed at regulatingand eliminating child labor (Horrell &amp Humphries 515). TheOpposition was witnessed from businesses because they relied on thechildren for cheap and reliable labor. Families that depended ontheir children’s income for a living also fought against theregulations. Enforcing fair labor policies was a challenge during theindustrial revolution. Resistance was experienced from diverseindustries, which played critical role in the improvement of theAmerican economy. However, laws that helped to minimize child laborand created favorable working conditions were later implementedsuccessfully in the American society (Tuttle 89). Improvements werewitnessed based on the minimum wage and reduction of working hoursfor every employee. In summary, child labor was a practice thatshowed growth in the American society during the industrialrevolution.

American Civil War

TheCivil War that existed in America was associated with many negativeimpacts that contributed to the increase of child labor. The Americaneconomy was destroyed because the available resources were directedto the war. As a result, people became poor, a situation thatstimulated the growth of child labor. The Civil war that occurredbetween 1861 and 1865 was a great determinant of the kind of nationAmerica would be in future (Ryhina 123). Research indicates thatAmerican war was the most destructive and largest disagreement thatoccurred in the Western world. The civil war was triggered by thedifferences created by the steps of the national government toprevent slavery in the non-state territories. The slave states andfree-slave territories were angered by the actions, and a civil warrose in the country. The negative concerns of the civil war demandfor the reconstruction of the country because it was adverselyaffected in different sectors. Political, economic, and socialchanges were witnessed in America during the war. For instance, theeconomic structure of the South America was damaged as a result ofthe disagreement. Alternatively, the North experienced growth becauseit had high manufacturing power. The differences between the statusesof the two regions in the country affected unity in the nation. Manyindividuals also died during the civil war, and a high number oforphans and widows was witnessed in the country. Individuals had tostrain and work in various places to earn a living. Slavery became acornerstone of the South and America at large in an attempt torebuild the nation. Since the war had caused the death of manyadults, the children provided most of the labor.

Thefederal government established strategies that focused on minimizingand eradicating slave trade in the country. The implementation of the13th amendment resulted in the slave trade. Thedestruction that had been experienced during the civil was great, anda plan was set to reconstruct the nation. Resources and raw materialwere needed to develop the country to its earlier position. Economicexpansion was not possible without effective labor (Horrell &ampHumphries 485). Poverty forced individuals to seek for employmentbecause the war destroyed property and other sources of income.Circumstances forced children from low-income families to work incompanies and firms to provide for the family and themselves. Lifewas challenging for the children because most of them had lost theirguardians during the civil war. Furthermore, employers and otherbusiness people took advantage of the starving kids and exploitedthem. Child labor saw expansion and acceptance in the Americansociety because it was a positive contributor to the growth of thecountry’s economy.

Thecapital was also destroyed during the war, a situation that led todecrease of the minimum wage. Children were preferred to offer laborbecause they could be subjected to low wages or no compensation atall. Cheap labor was needed for effective recovery of the economicactivities such as trade (Tuttle 89). A high amount of funds had beenused to aid the military during the war. As a result, the countrylacked enough capital to establish developments. Leadershipstructures were also affected, and it was a challenge to developinitiatives to fight for the employment rights of humans. Child laborwas influenced by diverse factors which included poverty witnessed inthe society after the war. Rampant poverty was found in the rural andlow-income families adopted diverse ways to sustain themselves in thesociety. In urban centers, life was also challenging becauseunemployment was one of the impacts of the civil war. In order torecover from the war damages, children were required to work and helptheir families to earn a high income and survive in the country.

Civilwar contributed to the growth of advanced technologies and wartimeproduction strategies. Industrialization was triggered by the war,and new production lines were witnessed in America. The period wasmarked by the growth of agriculture and improvement of industries,which demanded high labor and adequate resources. The Americanindustry showed dramatic changes after the civil war. Unemploymentwas witnessed as machines were used to perform tasks that wereearlier done by humans (Tuttle 89). The lives of the people were alsoaffected, and most of the Americans relocated to cities. Thedifference between individuals of various wealth classes created asituation that led to imbalances in the society. Live in the urbancenters showed contrast because a small group of people accumulatedwealth while a huge mass of other individuals experiences extremepoverty.

Childlabor was common among the poor individuals as they tried to sustainthemselves in the city. Laborers who did not enjoy the advantagesassociated with economic growth characterized factories, mines, andmill. Children mostly worked in the developed industries, wereexposed to long working hours, and minimized wage. Life waschallenging for the poor, and most of them lived in slums. The highrate of unemployment was witnessed, a factor that led to the decreaseof the minimum wage. Economic expansion was focused on the industrialrevolution, which was associated with diverse profits. Exploitationof individuals was witnessed as industries preferred child laborbecause young people were easy to manage. Moreover, the cost ofcompensating the child labor was low and high performance was evidentbecause the kids were energetic. Resistance from the laborers wasalso minimal since children could not organize rebels effectively(Ryhina 123). The growth of the economy was a positive outcome of theindustrial revolution, which was triggered by the civil war. Americachanged drastically, and its economy advanced due to the industrialrevolution, which relied on child labor for smooth production. Civilwar, therefore, facilitated the growth of child labor because it wasused in industries in an attempt to recover and reconstruct thenation.

Immigration in America

TheUnited States witnessed a large number of immigrants between 1880 and1920. As a result, more than a half of the American workers composedof immigrants and their kids. Immigrants and production enterpriseswere common in the expanding cities during the period ofindustrialization. A correlation between industrialization andimmigration was witnessed in the American history. Spanish settlerswere the pioneers of immigration in America in the 16 century. A waveof indentured and free labor and large-scale introduction of slaveswere forms of immigration (Horrell &amp Humphries 485). Differenteras that were characterized with mass immigration resulted in agreat increase of immigrants in America. The impact of theimmigration during the American Revolution was great. Child laborshowed intensification during the period because of the highpopulation of immigrants. Immigration led to the growth of marketsfor the products in America. Labor was a problem in the UnitedStates, and most companies relied on foreign workers. Economic growthwas improved when the mass immigration was experienced in thecountry. Workers were recruited from the immigrants who were readilyavailable.

Thehigh population of the immigrants in the country was influenced bythe change of the policies that barred movements across borders. Thenumber of Mexican immigrants increased each year gradually. Familiesmoved from their home countries to America in search of employmentand shelter (Tuttle 89). Urbanization and industrialization thatoccurred in America attracted approximately 20 million immigrants.The happening of the World War I led to the reduction of immigrationsince a conducive climate was not available. The immigrant’schildren were involved in employment because their families were poorand needed to gain high income. Companies and industries relied onthe immigrants for labor and market for the produced products.Economic expansion was witnessed in America during the high influx ofimmigrants because resources were made available.

The Keating-Owen Child Labor Act

Theincrease of child labor in the American society led to theestablishment of child labor act known as Keating-Owen. The act wasimplemented in the United States with the aim of solving the concernof child labor. Policies contained in the act prevented the marketingof goods and services that were associated with employment ofchildren. Moreover, items that were produced from factories thatrelied on child labor were not allowed to be shipped at all. Strictmeasures were applied to the parties, which violated the law enforcedagainst child labor. The fate of children under eighteen years wasexposed to high risk before the establishment of the law.Keating-Owen is an act that restricted and minimized employment forabout 250 million children in the country (Ryhina 123). Children whoworked in farms that were associated with less harsh conditions werenot affected by the act. The basis of the act was constitutional andenabled the Congress to monitor commercial activities. Industries,factories, and other manufacturing sectors were analyzed, and thelabor utilized in the production determined. The investigations werebased on the act and aimed at ensuring that children were notdepended on for labor in any of the American industries.

Progressiveactivists and social reformers organized long campaigns thatincorporated the statute. The success of the act was witnessed in1916 when about 36 states managed to prevent industrial child labor.Moreover, eighteen states managed to reduce the working hourssubjected to children. The opposition was experienced from variousindividuals because the law interfered with their business. Childlabor opponents claimed that the establishment of federal law wasnecessary to ensure that the laws were effectively and consistentlyapplied in the country. Competitive economic benefits were providedto states that did not have child labor laws. Arguments claimed thatthe states were likely to practice employment of children in future,which would mean ineffectiveness of the Child Labor Act (Horrell &ampHumphries 485). The enactment of the act gained the support of theHouse, and the president signed approval of the Senate before it.Constitutional issues were associated with the application of theAct, which hindered its effectiveness.

Keating-OwenAct was a big turn for the American society because it enhanced thesafety of children. The reform also resulted in increasing of theminimum wage, leading to the advancement of the living standards ofthe individuals. Child labor would be difficult to end without thesupport of the society. Conflicts between the law enforcement, andthe children`s guardians, the companies, or the children wereexperienced that hindered successful implementation. Alternatively,the economy of America relied on some of the companies that utilizedthe child labor (Tuttle 89). Elimination of the workforce causedstarvation of the industries and factories of an essential resource.States were required to control the practice of employing childrenafter the Supreme Court claimed that the Keating-Owen Act was notbased on the constitution. Prohibiting employment of children withoutdeveloping an alternative method of helping them resulted in thesuffering of the orphans. Although certain conditions favored thegrowth of child labor, the Keating-Owen Act helped in mitigating theproblem.

Reformers of the Child Labor

Therise in the employment of children in America resulted in a conflictbetween supporters and reformers. Reformers gave opinions concerninglabor laws that they thought would improve the living standards ofthe workers. Richard Oastler is one of the reformers who reacted tothe practice of employing children. Oastler established a strongdemonstration that involved all the textile factories located inAmerica. According to Oastler, the best strategy that could be usedto protect children would be concentrating on the working hours.

JohnCam Hobhouse the other reformer brought forward a bill that focusedon minimizing the working hours subjected to children. Opposition tothe bill was experienced, and Honhouse directed his focus on a billthat was ineffective and covered only the cotton mills (Ryhina 123).The bill influenced workers to develop unions that were determined tohair the needs of the workers. Hobhouse advocated for the change ofthe policies concerning labor and the legislation of factories. Hewrote a letter to the textile factories claiming that only childrenabove nine years were supposed to be working in the sectors.Moreover, he gave a suggestion of working hours that were supposed tobe applied to different groups of children based on their age.Furthermore, he claimed that under 18 individuals were not supposedto be assigned night shifts in the factories. The efforts of Oastlerhelped in fighting for a favorable working environment for thechildren (Horrell &amp Humphries 485). Both the reformers claimedthat child labor would be less harming if the working hours werereduced to certain hours. The protection of the children was achievedto a certain extent.


Childlabor was a practice that was witnessed in the United States thatoffered labor in firms. The American industrial revolution influencedthe intensification of child labor in the country. Theindustrialization that happened in America led to the development ofindustrial jobs, which made people shift from their previous personaljobs to the industrial employment. Families and other individualswere attracted by the industries to the urban centers in search ofemployment in the established factories and industries. Children werepreferred for the labor in the factories because they were cheap anddid not cause chaos. Social reformers fought against the practice ofchild labor and influenced the establishment of legislations thathindered exposure of children to employment. The Civil War that tookplace in America was associated with many negative impacts thatinitiated the increase of employment of children. The country wasdetermined to recover and grow into its previous status.

Theeconomy needed to be enhanced and a source of labor was necessary.Immigrants from various parts of the world were recruited by thefirms and provided cheap labor that boosted production. Keating-Owenis an act that was established to restrict and minimized child labor.Moreover, reformers established strategies that helped in protectingchildren employed in the factories. Oastler argued that the beststrategy that could be used to protect children would beconcentrating on the working hours. Alternatively, John Cam Hobhouseanother reformer brought forward a bill that focused on minimizingthe working hours subjected to children. Eventually, the efforts ofthe reformers and the application of various acts influenced thetermination and minimization of child labor in America.

Works Cited

Horrell, Sara, and Jane Humphries. &quot&quot The Exploitationof Little Children&quot: Child Labor and the Family Economy in theIndustrial Revolution.&quot Explorations in Economic History32.4 (2015): 485-516.

Ryhina, O. (2013). Keating-Owen Child Labor Act of 1916: The FirstFederal Legislative Attempt to Prohibit the USE of Child Labor in theUS. Law of Ukraine/Pravo Ukrainy, (12): 123.

Tuttle, C. (2015). Child labor during the British industrialrevolution. EH Net Encyclopaedia: 89.