Boots & Sabers

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0458, 13 Jun 23

Let kids work: Power of work yields lessons for lifetime

Yes, I’m still on vacation, but I wrote a couple of columns ahead of time. Check out my most recent colum from the Washington County Daily News.

Wisconsin Republicans have joined a widespread effort to ease child labor laws to allow more kids to work more often in more places. While advertised as a way to help ease the national labor shortage, it is the kids who will benefit most if the laws are relaxed.


Contrary to the squeals of opposition, nobody supports businesses exploiting child labor. Those who wear shoes and carry phones produced by child labor in other countries seem to be the most vocal about relaxing America’s childlabor laws, but no American wants child sweatshops in our nation. The proposals being discussed are targeted efforts to make it easier for more kids to work.


One bill in Wisconsin, for example, would allow servers between the age of 14 and 17 to serve alcohol. The current law prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from serving alcohol. We have all seen how this works in the real world. When dining at a supper club, the 17-yearold server brings everything to your table except the old fashioneds. The poor server has to have the bartender or an adult server to bring your drinks. This is a rule that has no purpose unless one thinks that 16-year-old servers would slurp customers’ drinks on the way to the table. This change in law would simply allow the server who is already working to carry alcohol 40 feet from the bar to the table.


Other states like Ohio are asking the federal government to allow students aged 14 and 15 to work until 9 p.m. on school days. Current laws prohibit them working after 7 p.m., which effectively eliminates the ability for these teens to work during the school week if they are involved in after-school activities. Busy, productive teens are often participating in after-school activities.


What we have seen in the past few decades is that people are beginning their working lives later and later. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of a worker in 2001 was 39.6 years. In 2021, it had risen to 41.7 years. It is projected to be 42.6 years in 2031. What is driving this is that older people are working to later in life while younger people are entering the workforce much later. The number of 16- to 19-year-olds in the workforce dropped from 7.9 million to 5.9 million between 2001 and 2021, and is projected to drop to 4.9 million by 2031. That is a 38% drop in teens working in a single generation.


Over the same period, the rates of mental illness, anxiety, depression, and suicides have all increased for teens. According to the Center for Disease Control, feelings of persistent hopelessness and suicidal behaviors increased by almost 40% among young people between 2010 and 2020. While there are many causes for the rise in troubled teens, it is not coincidental that more kids are feeling worthless and lost as fewer of them are working.


What too often gets lost in this discussion is that there is an intrinsic value in work that goes far beyond the benefit to the employer. Work teaches young people the value of individual effort, how to participate in a team for a common goal, and accountability for actions. Working at an early age teaches people basic work ethics like punctuality, how to follow directions, professional communication, and time management. It teaches kids how to function in an environment where they are not the center of the universe, how to be productive with unreasonable customers and bad bosses, and slacker co-workers.


The value of work is that it provides kids with a sense of selfworth, pride, and dignity that no amount of self-esteem puffery in school and home can produce. These are benefits that kids will carry within themselves for the remainder of their lives.


Ralph Waldo Emerson once opined that, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” One cannot be happy without feeling useful and valued. Relaxing the labor laws to allow more kids to get that feeling through work will lead to happier, more well-balanced, and mentally healthier adultis.





0458, 13 June 2023


  1. dad29

    Someone–maybe on B&S–observed that ‘all I see is lawn-care trucks; no kids are cutting lawns any more.’

    Well, either there are ‘no kids’ or parents have lost their collective minds–but that truism is very easy to observe in the western ‘burbs.’

    Sad. Cutting the lawn is the easiest job in the world and it justifies an allowance. And if the kid is paying attention, they might even learn some things about maintaining mechanical goods.

  2. MjM

    …. because insurance.

  3. dad29

    …. because insurance.


  4. MjM

    Commercial grass cutters/landscapers are self insured. (Or should be. If they ain’t and you didn’t check, that’s on you.)

    A neighborhood kid gets hurt while chopping your crop you’re gonna get sued. By the parents. By the parents’ insurance company. You may have some liability coverage, but depending on the seriousness of injury your insurance may/may not pay for all.

    And if the kid is under 12 (push) or 16 (rider) it is likely your liability coverage won’t pay anything.

    Lawyers, lawyers everywhere.

  5. Mar

    The part of the bill I have a problem with us with 14 year old serving drinks to booze hounds.
    They are not just delivering drinks. They also have to determine if customer is too drunk. And that makes it a judgement call, which I don’t think a 14-17 year old can make.

  6. dad29

    And if the kid is under 12 (push) or 16 (rider)

    Yah, well, I was running a rider mower when I was 12.

    As to lawyers: Shakespeare was right.

  7. MjM

    …when I was 12.

    But that was a l o o o n g. time ago, eh? :D

  8. dad29

    Steam powered.

  9. Jason

    >The part of the bill I have a problem with us with 14 year old serving drinks to booze hounds.
    They are not just delivering drinks. They also have to determine if customer is too drunk. And that makes it a judgement call, which I don’t think a 14-17 year old can make

    That’s just one part. If you think about it, the law today is that a bartender can be held liable if they serve an underage drinker who then causes damages, injury, or death. No way even most kids under 25 today are ready for that responsibility. Thanks to the Democrat indoctrination programs of the last 30 years.

  10. Tuerqas

    We (read: my wife own horses. My wife just had to have surgery where she could not lift 10 lbs. for 6 weeks. It took away all her daily physical activity making her feel really bad about herself as a sad by-product. I have a very crunchy lower back so we asked the 2 neighbor kids if they would like to earn some money for 6 weeks. They were very excited, the aunt who is caring for them was excited. The weirdo recluse uncle who I have never even seen from a distance in 2 years said no and that was that. I believe parent/legal guardian bubble wrapping and indoctrinated fears heavily reinforce today’s schools, weakening and producing fearful children.
    Does anybody really think that kids today face so much more trauma than 20-40 years ago that increased depression, anxiety and suicide thoughts are warranted? Do they have more family abuse, more race violence, more bullying, etc. today or have they just been taught by rote to fear these things?

    Without thinking about it for a minute, I would say that actually experiencing actions that caused trauma and fear are much worse than just being warned against them. However, my problems growing up all helped me be a better, stronger person, in my own opinion. I have a hard time imagining feeling hearsay fears, because I experienced enough real ones that ‘what ifs’ just don’t bother me that much, especially all the ones out of my control. However, if the fears you are taught are the worst fears you ever face as a child and young adult, maybe the multitudes of fears you are taught to fear could be much worse. Having faced real problems/fears, I have been taught to minimize or even ignore a host of potential fears that others consider as real as any other that adults have taught them. I could see how that could be overwhelming. And they are rarely taught to face them today that I see.

  11. dad29

    And they are rarely taught to face them today that I see.

    That’s a big part of it.

    But there’s another part, at least for the super-annuated like me: we did not have the TIME to stare at our navels and bemoan the slings and arrows. Nor did we curl up with a phone instead of walking/riding over to talk with someone–a live human being–about issues.

    Between cutting the lawn, cleaning the rooms, cleaning the garage, sandlot baseball, exploring the woods behind the house, and/or school, extra-curriculars, etc.,—–that was plenty, especially before we could drive.

  12. Merlin

    You never hear ‘walk it off’ or ‘just rub dirt on it’ anymore. Perhaps it was never great advice, but it helped you determine whether you were really hurt or just hurting. There used to be a difference.

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