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Published in Print: November 11, 1998, as Report Urges Federal Limit on Hours Students Can Work

Report Urges Federal Limit on Hours Students Can Work

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Congress should give the Department of Labor the authority to limit the number of hours children under 18 can work during the school year, a committee of child-labor experts recommended in a report released last week.

Young people who work long hours during the school year are more likely to let their grades slide and get involved in alcohol and drug abuse, according to the report Protecting Youth at Work: Health, Safety, and Development of Working Children and Adolescents in the United States.

The 318-page report was a joint effort of the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, two nonprofit groups under congressional charter to study science, technology, and health issues.

For More Information:
Protecting Youth at Work: Health, Safety, and Development of Working Children and Adolescents in the United States is available for $44.95 (plus $4 for shipping and handling) from National Academy Press. Call (202) 334-3133.

"The benefits of work experience accrue to young people at very low work intensity, a few hours a week. The negative consequences of working while enrolled in school become more pronounced above 20 hours a week," said Stephen F. Hamilton, a member of the committee that wrote Protecting Youth at Work. He is a professor of human development and a co-director of the Cornell Youth and Work Program at Cornell University.

Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman said in a prepared statement that she welcomed the report's conclusions.

"Whether you are a teenager working in a fast-food restaurant or a young farm worker, school must be your main job. We must do everything possible to reinforce this value," Ms. Herman said.

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 gives the Labor Department the authority to limit work hours only for children under 16. The report says Congress should expand that authority to include 16- and 17-year-olds.

State laws on children's work hours vary. Twenty states limit the number of hours young people ages 16 and 17 may work.

About 80 percent of teenagers work at some time during the school year during their junior or senior years, according to three surveys cited in the report that were published in 1992 and 1995.

Seventeen-year-olds with jobs put in 18 hours of work on average per week during the school year and 26 hours per week during the summer, according to a 1995 survey by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

School-to-Work Efforts

The new report notes that work can have positive benefits for students, including teaching promptness and responsibility. It also recommends that an exception be made for high-quality school-to-work programs.

The committee is targeting "jobs whose principal benefit is earning money, not jobs teaching [young people] skills that they will use for the future," Mr. Hamilton explained.

John F. Jennings, the director of the Washington-based Center on Education Policy, said the report's recommendation for limiting the number of hours that students work is a good idea.

"Kids are concentrating too much on getting more money for clothes and activities and are neglecting their education," he said.

Vol. 18, Issue 11, Page 23

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