Will the Codes Abolish Child Labor?
Gertrude Folks ZimandDirector Research and Publicity, National Child Labor Committee
WHEN President Roosevelt on July 9 signed the Code of Fair Competition for the Cotton-Textile Industry, which bars from employment children under 16 years, he virtually removed from that industry several thousand children who will be replaced by adults. Had this action been taken in the spring of 1930, before unemployment became so acute, the number displaced would have been over 10,000.
If all of the clothing industries adopt a similar provision, which is expected, another 8650 children will yield their places to older workers. In this case, the Census figure is probably fairly representative of the number of children now at work, for with the sweatshops which have sprung up since the depression, an actual increase in the number of children employed was reported last year in several cities which are strongholds of the garment trades.
One of the primary purposes of the National Industrial Recovery Act is to increase employment opportunities. For this reason, if for no other, a 16-year-age minimum should be incorporated in every code. All of the important child-labor industries that have definitely submitted codes have done so, and President Roosevelt's blanket code, which is operative only until December 31 and which depends upon voluntary acceptance, specifies a 16-year age minimum except for non-manufacturing industries where children 14 to 16 years may work for 3 hours a day.
A real point of danger, however, lies in the agreements to be submitted by the retail trade groups. Although more than 25,000 children under 16 years were employed in stores in 1930, and 15 percent of these were under 14 years, the code originally drafted by the National Retail Dry Goods Association, which it was said would probably be a model for other retail groups, contained no age minimum. Moreover, it specified a decidedly lower wage-rate for junior workers under 18 years than for adult workers. In such industries, where for many processes a very short period of training is required, a wage differentiation based on an arbitrary distinction of age is bound to result in the employment of low-paid juvenile labor to replace more highly paid adult labor, thus defeating one of the fundamental purposes of the Recovery Program. This industry is now reframing its code, and the new text has not been made public at this writing.
The Detroit Retail Merchants Association, it is interesting to note, has already protested to General Johnson against the blanket code in its application to mercantile industry and has asked that lower wages for junior employees be considered.
The industrial codes can at one sweep temporarily abolish child labor in most of the industries of this country. Allowing for a 25 percent decrease since the 1930 Census was taken, fully 100,000 children would be released for school and their jobs made available for adults if a 16-year age minimum were incorporated in all codes. The 400,000 children regularly employed on their home farms will not be touched by the codes, and whether the 67,000 young wage-workers in commercialized agriculture, the 23,000 newsboys and bootblacks, and the 40,000 domestic workers will be affected is likewise doubtful.
However, the mere inclusion of a 16-year age minimum is not sufficient for all industries. Not only the 14- and 15-year-old coal-mining operatives, of whom there were 722 in 1930, should relinquish their jobs to adults, but the 15,182 boys of 16 and 17 years as well. The code of the bituminous coal industry, however, provides merely that children under 16 should not be employed "inside a mine." Undoubtedly the 3,181 children under 16 should be taken out of the sawmills, as the lumber code already submitted to the National Recovery Administration stipulatesbut every one of the 15,736 workers who are under 18 years should also be removed from this hazardous employment. The general public, as well as the men who get their jobs, will be relieved if the 15,219 "chauffeurs, truck and tractor drivers" who are under 18 years surrender their drivers' seats to older men. And the railroad tracks are no place for the 5,665 boys under 18 who are working upon them as "laborers." Nor is there any place in our blast-furnaces and steel rolling-mills for the 4,973 boys under 18 who were so employed in 1930.