Illegal Child Labor in the United States: Prevalence and Characteristics

Douglas Kruse, Douglas Mahony

NBER Working Paper No. 6479
Issued in March 1998
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies

This study provides the first comprehensive estimates of children and youth working under conditions that violate federal and state child labor laws. Using the CPS, NLS, and other sources, it is estimated that 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. The total number of hours worked illegally is about 113 million per year, for which these minors are paid over $560 million. Whites, males, and 15-year-olds 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 adds up to a total employer cost savings of roughly $155 million per year. In addition to raising important policy concerns about the health and well-being of these youths, the findings make a case for the development of high-quality employment data on children and youths, to improve estimates of illegal employment and study its effects.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w6479

Published: Kruse, Douglas L. and Douglas Mahony. "Illegal Child Labor In The United States: Prevalence And Characteristics," International Labor Relations Review, 2000, v54(1,Oct), 17-40.

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