For The Children Weekly Column

Child Labor is Poor Solution to Worker Shortages – First in a Series of Three


Contact: Joe Dorman, CEO – Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy

Telephone: (405) 833-1117


OKLAHOMA CITY – Recently, I was invited by state Rep. Judd Strom and Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn to testify at an Oklahoma House of Representatives interim study examining child labor laws and what is happening across the nation. OICA is also grateful to Rep. John Talley, chair of the Children, Youth, and Family Services Committee for hearing the study.

This will be the first of three columns analyzing this issue and why solutions other states are considering would be harmful to Oklahoma’s youth. But first, let’s examine the situation that exists today.

As of August 2023, there were 6.4 million unemployed persons in the U.S. labor market.  In comparison, there are 8.8 million job openings. This is driven by the continuing impact of the COVID pandemic:

  • Since the pandemic, we have lost 8 million workers from the workplace.
  • 300,000 Americans of working age have died from COVID-19.
  • 1.5 million workers retired earlier than expected due to the pandemic.
  • 4 million have left the workforce due to long COVID.
  • 2 million fewer women due to childcare shortages (driven by COVID losses) and familial needs.
  • 2 million fewer working-age immigrants than pre-2020 trends, of which 1 million are college-educated.

Making it worse are:

  • An aging workforce – The median age is 39 years old, and we are aging faster than at any other time in history.
  • Lower birth rate – The birth rate is the lowest in history and is projected to decrease over the rest of the century.
  • Decreased immigration – Net immigration peaked in 2016 at 1.2 million, and then has declined every year since, only rising in 2022.
  • Employment projections – the U.S. economy is projected to add 4.7 million more jobs from 2022 to 2032.

Currently, the minimum age to be employed in Oklahoma is 14 years. Children working either on farms or for parents or any entity in which a parent owns an equity interest are exempt from this age limitation, related to the study by Michael Kelsey, a fellow Rush Springs native and head of the Oklahoma’s Cattlemen’s Association. Additionally, children engaged in the sale or delivery of newspapers to consumers are also exempt.

Our state does issue work permits for youth, also known as the Employment Certificate for Age and Schooling. The work permit must be approved by the principal or equivalent administrative officer of the school which the child attends or should be attending, or the child’s parents if the child is being schooled at home. The certificate verifies the minor’s age and the compulsory school requirements in accordance with Title 70 Section 10 of the Oklahoma Statutes.

A minor under 16 years may work up to three (3) hours on school days (Monday to Friday), up to eight (8) hours on non-school days, and up to 18 hours in a school week. Additionally, they may work up to 40 hours in a non-school week if school is out for the entire week, but they may not work overtime.

Some might say these figures show why we should relax child labor laws. The fact is this clearly is not the solution. Over the next two weeks, I will cover more of the labor laws impacting children and delve more into detail about how relaxed child labor laws harm youth working too many hours on a job and not being able to devote the necessary time, energy, and attention to education – on top of time for a kid to just be a kid.