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

IV. Demographic and Job Characteristics

Does the rate of illegal employment differ by demographic characteristics? Table 2 provides demographic breakdowns of legal and illegal employment for 15- to 17-year-olds, and compares those rates to the younger and older adult populations.

Males in the 15-17 age range are more than twice as likely as females to be working illegallyÑan estimated 1.1% of all young males, and 4.2% of young male workers, do so compared to only 0.4% of all young females and 1.5% of young female workers.{1} African-Americans and Asian-Americans are the least likely to be working illegally, either as a percentage of all youths or just of workers. The overall employment rate is almost twice as high among whites than among those of other races, contributing to a higher rate of illegal employment among this group (0.9% compared to 0.3% for African-Americans, 0.7% for Native Americans, and 0.3% for Asian-Americans).{2} Hispanics are less likely than non-Hispanics to be employed, but once employed, are just as likely to be employed illegally.

Geographically, illegal employment appears to be more common in the Midwest and in non-metropolitan areas, partly reflecting a higher likelihood of any employment for those in these areas. Just over 1% of 15- to 17-year-olds in the Midwest are working illegally, compared to 0.6-0.7% of those in the other regions, while the 0.9% rate in non-metropolitan areas is slightly higher than the rates in central cities (0.6%) or the suburbs (0.8%). When restricted to those who are employed, illegal employment is more common in the West (3.2%) and Midwest (3.0%) than in the Northeast and South, and remains highest in non-metropolitan areas (3.2%).

State-by-state estimates cannot be reliably determined even with the combined monthly surveys, due to small sample sizes for most states. The ten largest states, however, each had sample sizes of more than 5,000 15- to 17-year-olds, providing greater confidence for estimation. Among these ten, the highest rate of illegal employment is found in Michigan, where 1.8% of all youths and 4.9% of employed youths are working under illegal conditions. North Carolina and Illinois have the next highest rates, both with 3.0% of employed youths working under illegal conditions, while the lowest rate of illegal employment among employed youths is 1.9% in Florida.

Table 3 provides a breakdown of job characteristics for legally and illegally employed youth, and compares those characteristics to younger (age 18-24) and older (age 25-64) adults.

Partly by definition, 15-year-olds working illegally work a higher number of hours per week (mean=24.9) than those working legally (mean=13.0). This pattern is also true among the 16- and 17-year-olds, where no hours restrictions apply, but the means hours worked in both legal and illegal jobs is much less than among younger or older adults (not surprisingly, since those older than 17 are less likely to be in school).

While average hourly pay is slightly lower among illegally working 15-year-olds, and slightly higher among illegally working 16- to 17-year-olds, compared to their legally working counterparts, the differences are not strong enough to be statistically significant. The weekly pay figures naturally mirror the hours and hourly pay differences, showing significantly higher average weekly pay for youths working illegally, but still well below average pay for younger and older adults.{3}

The occupational breakdowns show that illegal employment for 15-year-olds is concentrated among sales workers (due to excessive hours, or working in liquor stores which is forbidden by many state laws), food preparation and service (due to excessive hours or use of slicing machines), and operators, fabricators, helpers, and laborers (primarily due to working in manufacturing or construction settings, or with power-driven machinery). This pattern is different for 16- and 17-year-olds working illegally, where almost half are working in jobs driving motor vehicles or material moving equipment, and one-fourth are working with power-driven machinery in precision production, craft, and repair jobs. The industry breakdowns show that almost one-third of illegally-employed 15-year-olds are in construction (19.7%) and manufacturing (10.8%). Their percentage in wholesale and retail trade (38.4%) is similar to that of legally-employed youths, but they are much less likely to be in agriculture or private household services. A similar pattern prevails among the 16- and 17-year-old illegal workers, of whom one-third are in construction (12.0%) and manufacturing (22.0%) while half (51.9%) are in wholesale and retail trade. They are nonetheless less likely to be in wholesale and retail trade than their legally-employed counterparts (62.3%), and less likely to be in services (only 7.6% in non-household, non-personal services, compared to 19.5% of the legal youths).


{1} These differences are statistically significant, as are all differences in this section except where noted.

{2} The white rates in columns 3 and 4 are significantly greater than the African-American and Asian-American rates, but not significantly different from the Native American rates.

{3} The CPS censors pay values at $1923 per week. To ensure that this does not bias the mean estimates downward, the censored values have been adjusted upward to reflect the true mean of the censored distribution using a procedure that assumes weekly earnings are lognormally distributed.


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