The US Department of Labor’s independent watchdog is launching a probe into the agency’s response to a recent surge in child labor violations in the US workforce.
The Office of Inspector General put the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division on notice that it plans to immediately begin work on a probe of its “efforts to curtail child labor law violations, as well as the cause for rising child labor law violations,” according to an Aug. 21 memo to Principal Deputy Administrator Jessica Looman.
Scrutiny of the DOL’s enforcement efforts to reverse a growing number of child labor violations across the country comes after multiple media reports and department investigations found hundreds of children working in dangerous, illegal conditions. Several cases have also involved undocumented migrant children.
Agency officials said in July that over the past 10 months alone, the DOL’s wage division has concluded 765 cases involving 4,474 children employed in violation of federal child labor laws. Overall, the department reported that it’s seen a 69% increase child labor violations from 2018 and 2022.
The DOL launched a specialized enforcement taskforce earlier this year to bolster its investigations and to better identify signs of child exploitation.
But Biden administration officials and Democrats say the wage division, which is tasked with policing the laws protecting minors at work, is woefully understaffed and underfunded, and needs more funding from Congress to complete its goals.