The Labor Department recently released statistics highlighting an apparent dramatic increase in child labor across the U.S., finding that thousands of children have allegedly been working illegally since the start of the fiscal year.
In a July press release, the department said it closed 765 child labor cases between October 1, 2022, and July 20, 2023.
Findings from these cases indicated there were 4,474 children employed in violation of federal child labor laws, leading to fines totaling $6.6 million for the businesses that had allegedly employed them.
The numbers mark a 44% increase in such alleged violations and an 87% uptick in fines handed out compared to the same period in the previous fiscal year.
One example cited in the press release comes from 16 McDonald’s chains across Louisiana and Texas.
Investigators found that McDonald’s franchisee CLB Investments LLC in Metairie, Louisiana, apparently employed 72 children aged 14 and 15 working longer and later than allowed. A dozen locations were affected, and one eventually shut down, according to a separate news release from the Dallas office of the Labor Department.
CLB Investments was assessed a fine of $56,106 for the apparent violations.
Similar alleged violations were found at four McDonald’s locations in Texas operated by Marwen & Son LLC in Cedar Park. Ten minors between the ages of 14 and 15 years old were found to be working at the locations and seemingly violating labor laws, per the news release.
Marwen & Son was assessed a fine of $21,466 for the alleged infractions.
More than 700 cases remain open, which could lead to another drastic increase in reported statistics, according to the press release.
At a hearing on Wednesday, Xavier Becerra, secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), was questioned by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce about the apparent lack of progress in slowing child labor.
“There are some terrible things that are wrong,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) to Becerra, according to The New York Times. “At the end of the day, as H.H.S. secretary, the buck stops with you.”
Concerns were raised about the HHS retaliating against whistleblowers, who alleged that they had told Becerra and the White House that the HHS shelter system was releasing children to sponsors who were violating child labor laws. The whistleblowers claimed that they were punished for speaking out, per the NYT.
“Thanks to The New York Times, we know that reports reached your desk that children were at risk,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), committee chair, according to the NYT. “The American people must know how you could possibly have ignored these warning signs.”
Since 2021, roughly 300,000 children have entered the U.S. unaccompanied, fanning the flames of this issue, according to the NYT.
In an attempt to slow the growth of child labor in the U.S., some states have developed task forces.
House Democrats in Michigan recently announced the creation of a task force that will help advance legislation combating child labor. The task force will also push for stronger enforcement, urge lawmakers to prioritize the issue, and host educational events to raise awareness on the subject, according to The Detroit News.