The most succinct critic of overly restrictive child labor laws in the U.S. turns out to be a kid himself.
"It kind of stinks," 12-year-old Brian Glennon told the Chicago Tribune, "because there's absolutely no point to [working] if you're not going to get paid."
Brian and 35 other kids from Darien, Illinois, had planned (and trained) to make some summer pocket money as Little League umpires, calling 10 games for $10 per game. The Illinois Department of Labor, responding to an anonymous complaint, decided to rescue the children from this backbreaking labor. After a February audit, the department accused the Darien Youth Club of 180 violations, threatening a $900,000 fine.
The umpires' parents are now stepping up to the plate, petitioning for a change in state law. Catherine Glennon, Brian's mom, doesn't see it as a child labor issue. "The kids want to do it," she told the Tribune. "It's interesting and fun. They want to make the money, and there aren't a lot of opportunities for these kids to do that." Federal law prohibits the employment of children under age 14, with a slightly lower threshold for agricultural jobs. Enforcement primarily falls to the states, and a few states follow federal law to the letter. Others have their own rules, some looser and some stricter than federal standards.
When asked to defend the Illinois umpire bust, the state Labor Department employee in charge of the case reminded the Tribune of recent news stories about a few parents who became violent at their kids' sporting events. "This can be very physically and psychologically dangerous for these kids," she said. "It's something everyone understands."
What everyone in Darien understands is that Illinois must not have much need for child labor laws, since the department has time to pursue complaints about kiddie umpires. That's good news overall, but for kids in Brian's situation, well, it just kind of stinks.