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Maine’s governor wants to make it easier for children to work

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R). (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) said Tuesday that state regulations governing child labor are hurting the state’s economy, according to the Portland Press Herald.

“We don’t allow children to work until they’re 16, but two years later, when they’re 18, they can go to war and fight for us,” LePage said at an agricultural trade show, according to the paper. “That’s causing damage to our economy. I started working far earlier than that, and it didn’t hurt me at all. There is nothing wrong with being a paperboy at 12 years old, or at a store sorting bottles at 12 years old.”

Easing restrictions on child labor — which date back to 1847 in Maine — instills a better work ethic among the state’s children and provides a learning opportunity for those who may not be cut out for school, LePage argued in an interview with Maine’s Downeast magazine last month:

That’s one big ill we can clean up — if we allowed our children to be able to work at an earlier age, part time, be taught by their parents, be taught by their relatives, and if you would allow schools to have a broader curriculum. We have a system in Maine where every child is going to go to college — boohey! I have seventeen brothers and sisters; I’m the only one that graduated high school. Only one. That doesn’t mean that they all failed. Some failed, some didn’t. The point is, not everyone is going to learn through books. Some learn through hands. Some learn through seeing. Some learn by hearing. Others learn by all of the above. I think it’s just sad that we sit there and we allow adults that have never been there to tell us how they’re going to improve things.

Four states have rolled back child labor restrictions over the past two years, political economist and University of Oregon Professor Gordon Lafer wrote in an expansive fall paper looking at state wage and labor laws and released by the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank focused on research related to low- and middle-income workers.  (Disclaimer: The author moderated a panel at which the paper was unveiled.)

Idaho, Wisconsin, Michigan and Maine are the only states to have passed laws easing regulations on child labor. In 2011, Idaho amended its child labor laws after a fracas over one school district’s longstanding practice of allowing middle and high school students to work in the school lunchroom in exchange for money and a free meal, according to KTVB. A district spokesman also told the broadcaster that the program saved the district money by eliminating the need to hire more employees.

That same year, Wisconsin removed limits on the number of hours children 16 or older can work when school is not in session. Children ages 14 or 15 can work no more than 40 hours a week during the summer, according to the state Labor Department.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misstated when LePage made his comments. He made them on Tuesday.

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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