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July 2012, Volume 18, Number 3
DOL: Child Labor, Training, ECEC
The US Department of Labor withdrew proposed regulations to tighten farm safety standards for children in April 2012 "in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small, family-owned farms."
DOL in September 2011 proposed to conform farm and nonfarm safety standards by barring children under age 16 from working on farms for wages or operating tractors or combines, handling pesticides, or working more than six feet off the ground on farms. These regulations would not apply to youth who work on farms owned or operated by their parents, but drew protests from those who said children under 16 routinely work for wages on the farms of relatives.
USDA in April 2012 reported that workers under age 20 had 3,191 nonfatal injuries on farms in 2009, down from 4,964 injuries in 2006.
DOL emphasized repeatedly that the proposed child-labor-on-farm regulations would apply only to youth who have an employer-employee relationship. Nonetheless, farmers and farm organizations opposed the regulations, arguing they would end both 4-H and Future Farmers of America programs that involve youth gaining work experience on farms. The Preserving America's Family Farms Act (HR 4157 and S 2221) would have blocked DOL's proposed child-labor regulations from going into effect.
Training. The $1.2 billion Workforce Investment Act enacted in 1998 is the major source of federal funds for training unemployed workers and those seeking more skills to improve their wages. A separate $575 million Trade Adjustment Assistance program assists workers who lose their jobs because of increased imports.
The WIA, which created local workforce investment boards, most of whose members are employers, is due to expire in August 2012. House Republicans in HR 4297 proposed $3.1 billion over five years and the consolidation of the funds for 27 training programs into one grant to state and local workforce investment boards. These boards would then provide job training services to adults, unemployed workers, and youth seeking employment. Democrats favor a competing bill that would not consolidate as many current programs into one block grant.
The question is whether training or education is a better tool to help workers to help themselves. Training workers to fill jobs in demand may wind up producing graduates just as the labor market changes, say some advocates of more education.
ECEC. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average hourly cost of private sector workers in March 2012 was $29 an hour, including 70 percent for wages and salaries and 30 percent for fringe benefits. (www.bls.gov/news.release/ecec.nr0.htm)
Legally required benefits such as Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and worker's compensation cost an average $2.35 an hour or eight percent of employee compensation, while voluntary benefits cost an average 22 percent of employee compensation. The most expensive voluntary benefit was life, health and disability insurance, which cost $2.35 or eight percent of employee compensation, while paid leave cost $2 an hour or seven percent. Employer contributions for retirement and savings cost $1 or four percent, and supplemental pay for overtime, shift differentials and bonuses averaged $0.85 or three percent.
Head Start. The federal government spends $7.6 billion a year to 1,600 Head Start pre-school programs that serve a million low-income children. In April 2012, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced that current programs would have to show that they are teaching children to have their grants renewed, prompting suits by some program operators against HHS. About a third of the programs are evaluated each year, and over 40 percent of those evaluated so far have been judged deficient.
The most comprehensive evaluation released in 2010 found that children participating in Head Start programs had small learning gains that faded by the end of their first year of school.