Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Child Labor

I'll come right out with it -- I don't think child labor is evil. For reference, I think you're a child if you're under the age of 14. Aspects of child labor I think are evil are unsafe working conditions and a trade of a child's education for a small amount of family income. That last aspect is easiest to explain: education is important, especially in the early years. Kids should be acquiring knowledge and having fun during this time, and if any of them are working it should be because they want to (for the work itself or for the money in order to buy something they want), not because their parents are poor. Any money a child earns should legally be theirs -- banks should make it easy to open an account entirely in the child's name with no adult supervision or access. I think work hours generally ought to be part time only (less than 25 hours a week), and between 14-16 that restriction is lifted during the summer months between school years. At the age of 16 I don't really see an important distinction with an 18 year old in terms of being able to join any area of the adult work force.

There are areas in the adult workforce that are unsuitable for children, and arguably for that transition period between 14-16 as well. Coal mines are by their nature unsafe. (As such it's actually not that bad compensation-wise, and even as a laborer you can still expect benefits.) Besides the safety concerns, the various jobs coal mining entails also typically require adult intelligence and adult physical fitness. Indeed the laborer position linked to wants candidates 21 years or older. (I have no problem with companies having age restrictions for their jobs -- if they want to exclude a certain segment of the market by choice, fine. But I think a lot of companies refuse to hire less-than-18 year olds (and especially less-than-16 year olds) simply due to legal complications.)

WW2-style sweat shops with lots of dangerous finger-chopping machines are also no place for a child. Even modern assembly plants aren't really suitable from a safety perspective. Simpler assembly line jobs like sorting or picking out defective food products requires an ability to focus on such an uninteresting activity for hours which most children simply do not have. (Also an awareness of one's cleanliness.)

What sorts of jobs are suitable for children? Labor-in-general is a pretty big area and children can fill large sections of it -- weeding, mowing lawns, picking fruit, cleaning, etc. Many children (I did) do these activities for family or neighbors, but if there's money involved it's always this kind of under-the-table cash-only thing. Another area is service. I once applied to be a bagger ("courtesy clerk") but I had to wait a few weeks until I turned 16 before I could be officially hired, due to child labor laws. Frankly an 8 year old could have performed the job I did, and I bet many 8 year olds would have done better than several other 16-18 year olds who also worked with me. One also doesn't need to be able to do much to take orders and punch them in a machine, take forms of payment, etc. At Subway, a child may need to have a stool handy to reach certain things, but there's nothing fundamentally challenging or dangerous about the job that would make it unfit for a child. If more children got into service, it would push out the teens and 20-somethings (who pushed out retirees) and create some interesting social dynamics that I think would lead to a better society. Another area children can be particularly effective at is in sales. As stated before, it's not hard to take orders and record them. Right now kids are exploited into doing this sort of work for free under the guise of "volunteering". Girl Scouts sell their cookies, when I was in elementary I remember taking part in the Sally Foster fund-raisers a couple times. There's no reason a kid shouldn't be able to join CutCo (yeah they'll cut themselves; I tried that gig once for about a month when I was 19 and cut myself too) and receive commissions based on how much they sale. A final area is in intelligence services -- e.g. software programming -- that only a few wiz kids will have much interest and capability of doing.

Right now kids can and do work for individuals on an under-the-table basis. If a kid commits 20 people in their neighborhood to pay them $20 to mow their lawn every week (hey, with inflation that's not unreasonable -- in the 90s my rate was $5), then they can make $1600 a month for however many months lawn mowing is viable, for a small effort per week. (If they're spread from Monday to Friday, I bet it'd be less than 5 hours of work per day.) That's not insignificant, I don't even think I made that much when I was a bagger. However what if that kid wants to get a few friends to help and pay them accordingly, or reinvest in his venture by buying better tools to do the job faster or offer more services like weed whacking, trimming, or raking? A legal entity would facilitate all that, especially having bank accounts to allow for personal control of finances and multiple forms of payment beyond cash and bitcoin, plus it would let the IRS get its share. Sometimes a parent will help with this, but they're taking on a legal risk themselves when they're doing none of the work and receiving all the money, but paying their kid in violation of child labor laws.

It would be nice if the legal system could allow for more child work. Is there a website kids can post to saying they're interested in mowing lawns for $X? I'd like to hire a kid to do that once a month at my property, but I don't know any of the neighbor children. I suspect such a website would be illegal... Even the under-the-table stuff has fallen out of fashion because of litigation concerns -- what if the neighbor's son cuts off his toe in his lawnmower? Just because he was on my lawn and I had agreed to pay him then somehow that makes me liable and the parent might sue me for hospital bills and "emotional distress". Better just say no to the kid or try and get him and/or his guardian to sign a waiver that may or may not hold up in court anyway.

The other restriction around child labor is minimum wage laws. There are many, many markets that currently aren't being served simply because it's suboptimal to pay someone a legally minimum amount to perform the job, and there isn't a simple directory to post want-ads or providing-service-ads to match buyer and seller for those markets. Factor in the fears of litigation, and suddenly you're thinking to yourself "Not only am I going to have to pay $X minimum, but if I don't do all these legal things properly -- and even then that's no guarantee -- I may get sued for many times $X if something bad happens".

I'd pay someone $5-$10 to come clean up my room for me. I'm within 15 minutes of most residential areas in the city, so we'll say they have 30 minutes of travel time. Cleaning up and organizing my room would take between 15 minutes and an hour. So if it takes an hour, and I pay $10, then we're looking at $6.66 an hour including travel time to and from. This is more than I made as a bagger years ago, but less than the state's minimum wage. And is there anyone in Redmond willing to do this? I don't know. Why can't I just put the ad on a site (Craigslist may have once been a place to do this, not really any more unless you have a good aggregate filter), specify some available times, and when someone accepts they'll get my address and a time and I'll get an email telling me to expect them? I don't care if it's a kid or an elder, I just want it done, and if they trip down the stairs I don't want to have to worry about them suing me.

Okay, there are a bunch of websites around that try to solve this odd-jobs matching problem. Here are a few I found: They all seem to suck in their own ways, some more than others, though the main suckages are requiring registration and only serving a few limited cities.

So how about letting kids in on this?

Posted on 2014-06-10 by Jach

Tags: government, philosophy


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