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Abstract

Part II of the Article sets out the basic facts regarding children in the contemporary American economy. These youths labor in a wide variety of work settings but are concentrated in the retail, restaurant, and service sectors. The existing protective statutes exclude large blocks of working children and provide few effective deterrents for violations. The results are as tragic as they are predictable. Working youths, particularly those working more than twenty hours per week, suffer numerous academic, physical, and other detriments. An additional problem particular to young workers is sexual harassment on the job. Part III analyzes the legal rules governing child labor in the United States and their enforcement. The keystone protective statute, the FLSA, is riddled with exceptions, lacks effective remedies and, in any event, is not enforced by the DOL. Part IV explores the highly aberrant legal rules governing youth decision-making in work and school. While the traditional paradigm for making decisions with long-term consequences places responsibility squarely upon parents or guardians, the law regarding workforce participation and school attendance provides a dramatic exception to this long-established rule. This result is even more jarring given the developmental stage of adolescence during which physical and neurological maturation are ongoing. Part V proposes a series of changes needed to end our current legal neglect and to create a safety net for this vulnerable population.

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