Health, to examine the research on the positive and negative consequences of working for children and adolescents in the United States. The committee was charged with reviewing the available data on the extent to which children and adolescents work and on the number and types of work-related injuries and illnesses sustained by children and adolescents; reviewing the research on how working during school affects education, development, and behavior; and examining whether the laws and regulations that govern labor by children and adolescents in the United States are adequate to ensure the health and safety of young people at work.
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that about 44 percent of 16-and 17-year-olds work at some time during the year, either while in school or during the summer or both. The government estimates do not include children younger than 16 who may work, although the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health found that about 40 percent of 7th and 8th graders were employed during the school year. Children of any age may work in family-owned businesses and on family farms. But even the official numbers for 16-and 17-year-olds are likely to be underestimates because they are based on reports by parents or other adults in the household. Research has found that parents systematically understate the involvement in the work force of their children. Department of Labor estimates are also limited by rather specific definitions of work. When high school students are interviewed directly through research surveys, about 80 percent report that they hold jobs during the school year at some point during high school.
A notable characteristic of working adolescents is that they move in and out of the labor market, changing jobs and work schedules frequently, in response to changes in employers' needs, labor-market conditions, and circumstances in their own lives. Children and teens, like adults, work mainly for the money. Children's income, however, no longer goes primarily toward family support, as it once did: The majority of working adolescents spend most of their incomes on discretionary items or on their individual needs.