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Should Children Work?

Children working brings forth the image of a turn of the century sweat shop, but can children benefit from a job in today's workplace? Should children work? Many do, and the structure that allows this is surprisingly prejudiced. Political Correctness is keeping many others from a job. All this has taken a toll on the work ethic in America.

We have all seen pictures from the early part of the last Century depicting the horror of children laboring in sweatshop conditions for long hours and little pay. Today kids are protected from such abuse by child labor laws in the United States, but have we gone too far and how fair are these laws?

State laws differ from one another in many ways, but all seem to provide strict guidelines for children that want to work. The idea in creating these laws was to provide a safe and reasonable work environment for those less than eighteen years of age, but a closer examination reveals some troubling facts.

In States like Florida, Arizona, New Mexico and California, child labor laws seem to separate children in two distinct categories of rich and poor. It's no secret that these States depend on Migrant Workers to bring their crops in. These workers often include children. The laws tend to make allowances for this as if to say, "OK, your kids can work like dogs in the hot sun because we need our fruit picked, but your kids have to be sixteen if they want a job at Kmart, Burger King or a Supermarket. We would rather have your kids help support you then give you food stamps, but they are only good enough to pick fruit."

No one wants to see a ten year old flipping burgers at Wendy's, but States that are consistently listed as those providing the worst services for children and familes have no problem with kids of the same age picking fruit. Even if the laws say it, they don't enforce it. This shows a clear failure on the part of federal, state and local agencies to provide a fair and non-prejudicial plan for child labor. If we can allow children of the very poor to labor so that politicians can claim they have taken the burden of feeding them off the tax payers, we can allow other kids to work.

Because we live in a dangerous world and a different time, paper routes are no longer attractive or even available for most kids. In trying to protect children from starting too young at better jobs, I believe we have created a generation of lazy, shiftless youth that do not know the value of a dollar. The current system is especially unfair to inner city kids who may need to work in order to eat. Left with no other option, many begin to sell drugs or engage in other illegal behavior. Is this how we want them to learn the value of working?

The mere fact that Youth Detention facilities are overcrowded and thirteen year old killers are flooding the penal system says we have a problem. Only narrow minded people with no consideration for anyone but themselves can believe that simply building more jails will fix things. If that were so, the problem would already be solved! The best way for children to learn responsibility is to provide them with the opportunity to work. We allow fourteen year old computer wizards to toil at major corporations earning from eight to ten dollars an hour and call it a learning experience, but restrict children who can't afford three thousand dollar computers to learn those skills from working more conventional jobs. This is blatantly prejudicial and obviously unfair.

While going to college, I worked as a Security Guard in New York City. During this time I met a number of other young people who were in a transitional period. Most were in school, on the list for City Jobs or waiting for something better. Almost all of these people had the same attitude about the Security Company and the jobs that they were doing. When I would take my fellow employees to task for being late or doing nothing, they would remind me that this wasn't a real job. If it were, they would do it right. Bad news for all those companies depending on them for their security needs!

The problem wasn't the job, it was them. If they could not assume the responsibilities and perform the duties of a five dollar an hour security officer, how could they be expected to perform at what they considered to be a 'real' job? Their attitude came directly from the lack of any work ethic. How can we expect people to develop a work ethic when they are prevented from working during the formative years?

Many parents are being coached by armchair generals who have lots of advice to offer, but no kids of their own. Some have children, but have been a miserable failure as parents. The result is that it's a real challange for many of today's parents to get their kids to do even small jobs around the house like taking out the garbage or cleaning up their own messes. That's because using the word WORK in conjunction with a child, adolescent or teen has become politically incorrect.

I am certain that a civilized society of nearly intelligent people can find a fair way to balance a young person's need to experience their adolescence and get an education, with society's need for responsible people with a work ethic. Taking the opportunity to work away from children who have the intelligence and skill to do so is robbing them of the chance to experience self satisfaction and build their own self esteem.


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