Dept of Labor Backs Down on Family Farm Child Labor Rule

The Labor Department has backed down over a proposed rule that would have applied child labor laws to youths working on family farms. They have cited public outcry for the policy reversal.

“The decision to withdraw this rule — including provisions to define the ‘parental exemption’ — was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms,” the Department said in a press release Thursday evening. “To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.”

Had the rule gone into effect it would have drastically cut the number of jobs children would have been able to help out with on their own family farm — work which is often vital to the survival of the farm that feeds their family. It would have prohibited children under the age of 16 from operating almost all power-driven equipment, including tractors, from working with tobacco or in stockyards or livestock exchanges. Many feared that the rule would effectively kill animal shows, too.

Nor were the negative consequences of the rule limited to a simple loss of labor. Parents and young adults who had worked on family farms in younger years cited the experience as one that instilled in them discipline and a firm work ethic. Critics who decried the rule as overprotective stated that all it would accomplish is to prevent children from learning valuable skills. Children are already forbidden from doing the most dangerous work on a farm.

“Losing that work ethic — it’s so hard to pick this up later in life,” said Cherokee County, Kansas Farm Bureau president Jeff Clark. “There’s other ways to learn how to farm, but it’s so hard. You can learn so much more working on the farm when you’re 12, 13, 14 years old.”

The Department of Labor was also under pressure from members of Congress who represented rural districts where farming is a vital part of the economy. The attempt to apply the restrictive child labor laws to children working on family farms was especially bizarre when one considers that the USA has a current national health care crisis stemming from childhood obesity. Preventing a segment of the childhood population who are working actively outdoors and learning vital skills for their future from doing so resonated as problematic with both politicians and the broader public.

“I am pleased to hear the Obama Administration is finally backing away from its absurd 85-page proposal to block youth from participating in family farm activities and ultimately undermine the very fabric of rural America, but I will continue working to ensure this overreaching proposal is completely and permanently put to rest,” said Sen. John Thune, Republican from South Dakota. “The Obama DOL’s youth farm labor rule is a perfect example of what happens when government gets too big.”

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