California authorities and a local group are confronting a resurgent issue: child labor

As the morning sun rises behind him, Carlos Esteban Rios sits in a Costa Mesa parking lot, awaiting a ride from an unfamiliar boss. He glances over some chemistry homework, unsure if he’ll make it to class. Rios, just 15, juggles odd jobs like dishwashing and plant trimming to support himself in the United States and send money back to his family in Guatemala. School takes a back seat to work, and while he enjoys subjects like math and environmental science, work often takes priority. His visa expired, and he’s working illegally, a common situation for many young migrants.

The rise in child labor, driven by factors like hunger in Latin America and Asia, an aging workforce, and rising inflation, is a complex issue that intersects with immigration patterns and labor market dynamics. Rios, like many others, is caught in a system where he’s not fully free to choose work over school, yet not a victim of human trafficking either.

Experts and authorities are concerned about the rise in illegal child labor, which has nearly tripled from 2015 to 2022, according to federal data. Factors like rural hunger in parts of Latin America and Asia, an aging workforce in the United States, and rising inflation contribute to this trend.

Upon arriving in the U.S., young workers are often handed over to third-party employment agencies that find work for them and claim they owe large debts for their trip and living expenses. This “debt bondage” becomes leverage, forcing children to work until the debt is repaid. They are sometimes initially housed in areas with high numbers of foreign-born residents, then moved to communities where employers need low-skilled labor.

Some children perform hazardous jobs, such as cutting and deboning chickens for long hours, facing punishments like pay cuts or withholding for complaining. Federal investigations have found numerous cases of underage workers in various industries, including meat processing, textiles, electronics, and sporting goods.

The issue of child labor is pervasive, touching almost every part of the American economy. Despite efforts by the Biden administration and the creation of the Interagency Taskforce to Combat Child Labor Exploitation, addressing illegal child labor remains a significant challenge.

Leave comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *.