The New Wave of Child Labor Laws

When Michael Nuzzo, 13, isn’t busy with homework on the weekends, he often spends a few hours helping out his parents at the pizzeria they own in Connecticut. For the Nuzzos, this is a family tradition. Michael’s father, who is also named Michael, began working for his dad at a young age too and is proud of the skills that he learned and can now pass down to his oldest child. “[My son] helps me make pizza, and he's an excellent pizzaman just like I was when I was his age," the father told ABC News. But the family business has come under fire recently for this practice.

Last month, Connecticut’s labor department launched an investigation into the Nuzzo family and their pizzeria to enforce the state’s child labor laws, which prohibit children under the age of 14 from working in a commercial business. The state has not tried to fine the family yet, but Michael Nuzzo and his wife Midgalia see the investigation as an encroachment on their basic rights and have filed a federal complaint against the state.

Connecticut is known for having stricter child labor laws than most states and even the federal government. At the moment, the official federal policy is that children 13 and younger can work for a business “solely owned or operated by your parents.” Yet, as extreme as this case may be, it is only the most recent battle in the long war over child labor laws in America.

Nearly a century ago, the U.S. took the first major step toward imposing federal guidelines for how much a child can work in this country. In 1916, Congress passed the Keating-Owen Act, which prohibited companies from selling any goods made by children under the age of 14 or 16, depending on the business. Throughout the 1800s, dozens of states had enacted their own similar legislation and this bill was meant to cap that effort. But instead, it was shot down by the Supreme Court, as was a similar piece of legislation that followed two years later.

Ultimately, a federal child labor law eluded advocates for more than two decades, until in 1941, the Supreme Court approved the Fair Labor Standards Act, regulating the acceptable working hours and conditions for children under 18. Today, many may assume the battle over child labor in this country is more or less settled, but this year has seen a renewed fight to strengthen the labor laws currently on the books.

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