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Protecting Youth at Work: Health, Safety, and Development of Working Children and Adolescents in the United States
the home to earn income for their families. Schooling was sporadic for most children and adolescents, who spent the better part of the year in agricultural work or apprenticed to craftsmen and only attended school during nonwork seasons (Kett, 1977). The importance of children's contributions to the family economy is reflected in our traditional long summer vacations, which were originally intended to free school children to work on their families' farms. During industrialization in the early nineteenth century, the importance of children's contributions to family income continued. The rise of workers' associations to protect adult jobs coincided with other mid-century social forces that promoted the idea of adolescence as a special period in life that should be dedicated to education and protection from the adult world. From these movements arose calls for universal free and compulsory education and an end to child labor. Economic conditions, however, forced many families to continue to depend on income from the work of their children (Greenberger and Steinberg, 1986). The first half of the twentieth century saw the decline of children's full-time participation in the U.S. labor force. Reduced demand for poorly paid, unskilled laborers, coupled with compulsory education laws, led many youngsters to spend more years in school.
The passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) included restrictions on child labor intended to protect "young workers from employment that might interfere with their educational opportunities or be detrimental to their health and well-being." For the first time, federal limitations were placed on the types of nonagricultural work permitted for children and adolescents under the age of 18. Hours of nonagricultural work were also limited for those under the age of 16. These legal restrictions played a part in the movement of American adolescents from workers to students. In 1900, fewer than 10 percent of 18-year-olds graduated from high school; of those between the ages of 14 and 19, 70 percent of males and 35 percent of females worked full time. By 1940, 50.8 percent of American 18-year-olds finished high school; of those between the ages of 14 and 19, only 40 percent of males and 25 percent of females worked full time (Kett, 1977; Greenberger and Steinberg, 1986).
The second half of the twentieth century has seen more young people remain in school. In 1990, only 9 percent of 16-and 17-year-olds were not attending school (1990 U.S. census data). By the