Young workers face pay discrimination in 34 states and DC

By Nina Mast, Economic Policy Institute

In 2023, the issue of child labor re-emerged as a national crisis. Federal data on the rise of child labor violations and numerous investigative reports of widespread illegal youth employment garnered sustained media attention, sparking outrage from the public and lawmakers alike. At the same time, EPI has documented an ongoingcoordinated effort to roll back existing child labor protections that is gaining momentum in states across the country. Legislative proposals to weaken child labor protections—some of which have already been enacted—allow employers to hire teens for more dangerous jobs or extend the hours young people can work on school nights.

teen girl with paint roller edit

What has received far less attention is the long-standing system of pay discrimination against young workers under federal and state laws. These laws allow employers to pay youth less than adults in the same jobs and, in many cases, exclude young workers from the minimum wage protections that cover most adult workers.

In states across the country, advocates and lawmakers are working to eliminate subminimum wages for low-wage tipped or disabled workers. Amid increased child labor violations and a growing movement to roll back protections for working youth, lawmakers should also work to eliminate youth subminimum wages. Age-based pay discrimination is unfair and harms workers of all ages.

Read More