Thousands of kids are now officially bummed out, just as summer’s approaching.
That’s because the Department of Labor this week has officially withdrawn its controversial proposal to limit child labor on farms. The proposed changes, formulated in the name of safety, would have prohibited kids under 16 from doing most of what’s required to keep a farmstead functioning, namely, driving tractors, tending livestock or running power equipment.
I’m sure that for plenty of farm kids across the country it would have been a glorious summer.
Now, not so much.
Yet the bad news for teens is good news for family farmers and producers. On many—if not most—smaller operations, all of the family members are needed to pitch in and help with the myriad chores required to tend crops and raise animals. In both cases, there are but a few short seasonal lulls; otherwise, agricultural production is a labor-intensive proposition.
I don’t pretend I grew up on a farm, but I did pick apples and cherries as a youngster during summers in upstate New York, and my kids picked strawberries during their younger days, back when Oregon had a far more robust industry prior to that state’s enactment of child labor protections years ago.
The hard work and pitiful earnings back then didn’t make a man out of me, but it sure didn’t do any damage to learn the lesson that even the simplest of foods—a piece of fruit—come with somebody’s toil and effort connected with it.
For once, a positive response
What’s more noteworthy about the Obama administration’s decision to withdraw the proposed restrictions on what work teen-agers could be allowed to do isn’t just the likely positive impact on a whole lot of farm kids’ collective work ethic, it’s that government actually listened—and responded—to the voices of those affected by the proposals.
According to DOL’s tabulation, more than 10,000 comments on the proposed rule were submitted. In shelving the proposal, DOL’s official statement noted that, “Many of the comments were from parents who own or operate farms who believed that the Department’s proposal would limit their ability to employ their own children on their farm and to provide their children with hands-on experiences in agricultural occupations.”
Honestly, I doubt if more than a couple dozen out of those 10,000 comments actually came from the kids themselves. Not many teen-agers exhibit any angst about not being able to enjoy “hands-on experiences in agricultural occupations” as the highlight of their childhood.