JOHN DERBYSHIRE: Is The Solution To The “Labor Shortage” More Immigration—Or Child Labor?
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[Adapted from the latest Radio Derb, now available exclusively on]

Everyone knows we have a “labor shortage” (because the business lobbies and Regime Media have been telling us) and everyone knows the solution: more immigration. (In fact, everyone knows that more immigration is the solution to everything.)

So I was encouraged to read this article in the Washington Post, February 11th: ”In a tight labor market, some states look to another type of worker: Children[by Jacob Bogage].

The states mentioned in the article are Iowa, Minnesota, and New Jersey. Only New Jersey has actually passed a law relaxing the rules on child labor. Iowa and Minnesota have bills before their state legislatures, but they haven’t yet been voted decisively up or down.

Wisconsin’s legislature passed a bill but the state’s Governor, career educrat Tony Evers, vetoed it. The Ohio state senate passed a bill, but it died in the lower house.

A big problem here: the phrase ”child labor” triggers a romantic narrative in many citizens’ minds, a narrative similar to what I have called ”the romance of American blackness.”

Black Americans? Oh yes: toiling away in those cotton fields under the leering eye of a brutish gap-toothed white overseer with a whip; scurrying in fear through city streets in terror of meeting a trigger-happy white cop.

That’s the romance of American blackness. The romance of child labor is similar: little urchins in rags pushing wagons full of coal in the mines, or working dangerous machinery in the Lancashire cotton mills, or crawling up inside chimneys to clean out the soot.

Sure, that stuff happened… a hundred and fifty or two hundred years ago. Does anyone think that minor adjustments to child-labor laws will take us all the way back to it, though? Does the romantic narrative really have that strong a grip?

Yes it does. Quote from Jacob Bogage’s Washington Post story:

”Do you remember the images of children in manufacturing and other dangerous work situations from the early 1900s?” Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, said in testimony to state lawmakers, according to Radio Iowa. ”There is a reason our society said that it is not appropriate for children to work in those conditions.” [Links in original]

So what are these bills proposing? They want to send little Tom back up the chimney and little Susie back to the garment-district sweatshop?

Not really. The Iowa bill would allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work certain specified jobs in meatpacking plants and laundries. Fifteen-year-olds could be lifeguards and do limited kinds of assembly-line work. The Minnesota bill would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work construction jobs.

All these bills have restrictions on hours worked during the school year.

Unromantic and narrative-immune as I am, I see nothing but good here. For one thing I strongly resist the idea that 16- and 17-year-olds are children. They are young adults. In a majority of states (and Washington, D.C.) you can get married at 16. At age 16 Henry V of England commanded the English army fighting the Welsh.

Fourteen- and 15-year-olds are more borderline, but plenty of them are capable of adult work and would welcome the opportunity. And plenty of them don’t want to go on doing book-work after age 15, and will learn nothing from it. It’s a waste of their time and public money.

Education in the U.S.A. today is a huge, malevolent, and extravagantly expensive racket, from the poisoning of infant minds with homosexualist and anti-white propaganda to the cold-cash gangsterism of the teacher-union cartels to our colleges bloated with more administrators than teaching faculty

Where elementary and secondary education is concerned, there are untold numbers of schools in which no education gets done. We get news reports on this all the time.

Here’s a recent one from Daily Mail Online. An analysis just released found that in ten Baltimore high schools, eight elementary schools, three Middle/High schools and two Elementary/Middle schools, not a single student reached the required math standard [Where ARE things going wrong? Damning report finds there are 23 public schools in Baltimore where NONE of the children understand basic math—as parents blame Dem-led city’s ’fraud and corruption,’ Daily Mail, February 19, 2023].

The CEO of Baltimore Public Schools, Sonja Santelises [Tweet her] was paid $444,875 last year. Nice going there, Ma’am.

Is it wildly speculative to think that the students at those ten high schools would have been spending their time more wisely and—and, from both their personal point of view and that of the national economy—more productively doing paid work than dozing at their desks learning nothing?

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him.) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.

For years he’s been podcasting at Radio Derb, now available at for no charge. His writings are archived at

Readers who wish to donate (tax deductible) funds specifically earmarked for John Derbyshire’s writings at can do so here.

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