These maps, which come from a 1933 Department of Labor report on child labor, document the uneven effects of state laws regulating the employment of children and teenagers.
During the first decades of the 20th century, progressives sought to regulate what they saw as exploitative employment of poor and immigrant children. Photographers such as Lewis Hine documented impossibly tiny newsboys, textile workers, and field hands, making a visual appeal to middle-class Americans, who were properly horrified.
When Congress tried to regulate child labor on the federal level by passing the Keating-Owen Act of 1916, the Supreme Court ruled the effort unconstitutional. Advocates stepped in and passed a patchwork of laws on the state level. (The Fair Labor Standards Act, passed in 1938, was the first successful federal law to regulate child labor.)
During the Depression, the contraction in the larger labor market meant that some jobs kids used to do were no longer available. On the other hand, as this report’s authors record, during the Depression years some employers drafted more young people to work in informal jobs, such as newspaper sellers and “mothers’ helpers.”
The report also found that African-American and Latino children were much more likely to work than white kids. Southern agricultural states, where these populations were disproportionately located, registered by far the highest percentage of working children.
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