Shortly after the 2010 midterms, with the Tea Party in ascendance and Republican Party radicalism reaching new heights, an unexpected issue appeared on the political world’s radar: child-labor laws.
GOP policymakers in a few states raised the prospect of rolling back laws that prevent children from entering the workforce, and among others, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) argued that federal child-labor laws are unconstitutional.
But no one seemed quite as enthusiastic about undoing child-labor laws as Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R), who championed a measure in March 2011 that would not only allow kids as young as 12 to get jobs, but would also allow employers to pay children less than the minimum wage.
Gov. Paul LePage’s goal of making it easier for minors to work will continue in January when the Department of Labor proposes streamlining the work permit process despite previous failed attempts to do so.
Child labor in Maine has been regulated by state government since the mid-1800s and a key component of those regulations requires school superintendents to issue work permits for school-age children offered a job. Now the Department of Labor has proposed being the first contact for work permits during the summer months. Currently, applications are completed at a person’s local superintendent’s office.
The initiative falls short of LePage’s stated desire to lower the legal working age to 12, but reprises previous unsuccessful attempts to make it easier for Mainers younger than 16 to earn a paycheck.
LePage said he’s not suggesting 12-year-old kids work 40-hour work weeks, but he’s comfortable with a 12-year-old working up to 10 hours a week and/or a 14-year-old working up to 15 hours a week.
As was the case with the measure two years ago, the Maine governor supports a minimum wage of $5.25 per hour for children – $2 less than the minimum wage for adults – which LePage would call a “training wage.”
It’s not yet clear whether this idea will gain traction in the state, though it does make a curious choice for LePage’s re-election platform.
Regardless, it’s a reminder that consensus issues – policies that Democrats and Republicans simply accept as an uncontroversial given, part of modern American life – are still dwindling. It wasn’t long ago that the mainstream could accurately say, “Well, at least both sides agree that child labor is a bad idea.”
Apparently, that’s no longer the case.