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Study: Illegal Child Labor in the United States
Sponsored by The Associated Press

Douglas Kruse
School of Management and Labor Relations
Rutgers University and National Bureau of Economic Research
November 1997

This paper benefited from the excellent research assistance of
Douglas Mahony, and helpful advice and comments from Alan Krueger,
Steve Director, Jeff Keefe, and Lisa Schur. Any errors are the responsibility of the author.


This study provides the first comprehensive estimates of children and youth working under conditions that violate federal and state child labor laws. Using a variety of sources with employment-related data on children and youths, some of the main findings are that:

An estimated 148,000 minors are employed illegally in an average week - working too many hours or in hazardous occupations - and 290,000 are employed illegally at some point during a year.

Of youth who are employed, one-tenth (10.6%) of 15-year-olds are working in violation of child labor laws, compared to 1.6% of 16- and 17-year-olds, who have fewer legal restrictions.

The total number of hours worked illegally is about 113 million per year, for which these minors are paid over $560 million;

Males, whites, and youths living in the Midwest, West, and non-metropolitan areas are the most likely to be working in violation of child labor laws;

Youths working illegally in hazardous jobs earn on average $1.38 per hour less than legal young adults in the same occupations, which combined with the savings from employing youths for excessive hours rather than young adults adds up to a total employer cost savings from illegal child labor of roughly $155 million per year.

The large number of minors found to be working illegally in an average week raises important policy concerns about the health and well-being of these youths. This study also adds weight to the recent recommendations of the NIOSH Child Labor Working Team concerning the development of high-quality employment data on children and youths, to improve estimates of illegal employment and study of its effects.


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