Many U.S. states (including Arkansas, Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska, and several others) have made headlines recently for their push to reduce child labor protections.

Proponents of these measures say that reducing restrictions will help ease the burden for businesses affected by the labor shortage, while opponents counter that reducing restrictions will make it easier for companies to take advantage of minors and place them in potentially dangerous work situations.

To learn more about the average Americans’ opinion on this divisive issue, in May, surveyed 1,000 adults living in the U.S.

Key Findings:

  • 1 in 4 believe child labor restrictions should be loosened in the U.S.
  • Of those who hold this belief and are concerned about the labor shortage, 89% say reducing child labor protections would be an effective way of addressing this issue
  • 1 in 3 who support reducing protections say it should be legal to pay minors less than minimum wage

1 in 4 Americans Support Reducing Child Labor Protections

Twenty-six percent of total respondents surveyed ‘probably’ (18%) or ‘definitely believe’ (8%) that child labor restrictions should be loosened in the U.S. This number is slightly higher for respondents identifying as Republicans (29%) vs. respondents identifying as Democrats (24%).

Additionally, younger respondents were more likely than older respondents to support reducing restrictions. Thirty-one percent of respondents aged 18-24 believe labor protections should be loosened vs. 17% of respondents age 55 or older.

When respondents were asked to explain why they support loosening restrictions, write-in answers included the following:

  • “So that it can prepare them for what’s to come as they graduate high school and step out into the real workforce.”
  • “I feel like mid-teens should legally be able to work entry-level jobs. They learn and get experience.”
  • “As long as they are being treated fairly there’s no reason why they couldn’t contribute some work to society.”

Write-in responses from those who are against loosening restrictions included the following:

  • “Kids need to have fun, not work.”
  • “Because children are not fully developed adults who know actions have consequences.”
  • “Because when there were no restrictions years ago, children were exploited to a high degree.”

1 in 5 Say Reducing Protections Would Help Address the Labor Shortage

Unsurprisingly, respondents’ level of concern about the labor shortage informed their opinions on reducing child labor restrictions. Seventy-one percent stated they are ‘somewhat’ (50%) or ‘very concerned’ (21%) about the labor shortage, and of this group, 30% support reducing protections.

On the other hand, 30% of respondents stated they are ‘not very’ (23%) or ‘not at all concerned’ (7%) about the labor shortage, and only 16% of this group supports reducing protections.

Of those who are both concerned about the labor shortage and believe in reducing child labor restrictions, 89% (or 19% of the total sample) believe it would be a ‘somewhat’ (57%) or ‘very effective’ (32%) way to address the shortage.

Half See a ‘Strong’ Correlation Between Working as Minors and Having a Good Work Ethic As Adults

Respondents who reported that they had a job when they were minors (73%) were more likely to support reducing restrictions than those who did not have a job when they were minors (27%). Twenty-eight percent of respondents who worked as kids support loosening child labor laws vs. 22% of those who did not work as kids.

Additionally, 89% of the total sample believe there is a ‘slight’ (41%) or ‘strong correlation’ (48%) between people working as minors and having a good work ethic as adults.

When respondents were asked to write in what they think the benefits are of working as minor, if any, common themes included learning responsibility, developing a strong work ethic, and making money to achieve independence.

Majority Say Kids Should Be Able to Start Working at Age 13-15

Of the respondents who believe child labor restrictions should be reduced, 60% say minors should be able to start working at age 13-15. Seventy-six percent of respondents in this group say 13-15 year olds should not be allowed to work past 9 pm on a school night, while 24% believe this should be legal.

When asked how many hours per week 13-15 year olds should be allowed to work, 85% of respondents in this group say minors in this age range should be limited to 20 hours/week or less.

In addition, 27% of respondents who believe in reducing restrictions say minors shouldn’t be allowed to work until age 16-17. A smaller number (11%) say kids as young as 11-12 years old should be allowed to work, while 2% say it should be legal for kids 10 years old or younger.

Of the group of respondents who support reducing protections, 34% say it ‘probably’ (16%) or ‘definitely should be’ (18%) legal to pay minors less than minimum wage. Additionally, even though this group supports letting minors work, the majority say they believe it is ‘somewhat’ (43%) or ‘very likely’ (26%) that employers will take advantage of minors who work for them.

“While I understand the concern over labor shortages, I believe that loosening child labor laws is not the appropriate solution,” comments Min Hwan Ahn, a New York attorney who has encountered numerous cases involving child labor laws. “First and foremost, the primary purpose of child labor laws is to protect the well-being and educational opportunities of children. These laws ensure that minors have the chance to focus on their education, personal development, and overall health,” Ahn explains.

“Reducing protections could lead to an increase in exploitation, potential health risks, and even hindered educational development for children. Second, loosening child labor laws may only provide a temporary solution to labor shortages, but it could cause long-term problems. It is important to address the root causes of labor shortages, such as improving working conditions, providing competitive wages, and investing in job training programs for adults,” Ahn continues.

“In my experience as a legal expert, I have seen the negative impact that working long hours or in hazardous conditions can have on minors. Loosening child labor laws would directly affect their future potential and well-being. Instead of reducing protections, we should be focusing on sustainable ways to address labor shortages that do not jeopardize the welfare of our children,” Ahn finishes.


This survey was commissioned by and conducted online by the survey platform Pollfish on May 8, 2023. In total, 1,000 participants in the U.S. completed the full survey. All participants had to pass through demographic filters to ensure they were currently age 18 or older. Age ranges and quotas for the survey were informed by U.S. census data.

Additionally, respondent location was balanced according to U.S. census regions. All respondents were informed as to the sensitive nature of the survey and were required to opt in to proceed.

The survey used a convenience sampling method, and to avoid bias from this component Pollfish employs Random Device Engagement (RDE) to ensure both random and organic surveying. Learn more about Pollfish’s survey methodology or contact [email protected] for more information.