A Working Class

Child labor is alive and well in the U.S., so long as you count teenagers as children. Drawing on 2002 data, a Census Bureau report says 3 million kids age 15-17 were in the labor force—9 percent of the 15-year-olds, 26 percent of the 16-year-olds and 41 percent of the 17-year-olds. Girls in that age bracket were a bit more likely than boys to be in the workforce (26 percent vs. 24 percent). Of course, being in the job market and having a job can be two different things. Among the 15-17s in the workforce, 21 percent were unemployed. In some cases, teens were working to help their families financially. But it’s worth noting that labor-force participation rates were higher in upper-income than in lower-income households. In families whose annual income is $75,000-plus, 29 percent of the 15- to 17-year-olds were in the workforce. That was true for 16 percent of those in families with income under $15,000, 20 percent in the $15,000-29,999 household bracket, 25 percent in the $30,000-49,999 range and 28 percent of those in the $50,000-74,999 household bracket.