Robert Reich
The Coffee Klatch with Robert Reich
The Republican threat to our children

The Republican threat to our children

While they mount a culture war against trans youth, they’re encouraging more child labor and more child gun deaths


The same Republican state lawmakers who are prohibiting transgender care for young people and barring them from using school bathrooms or playing on sports teams according to their gender identity — all in the name of “protecting children” — are actively subjecting children to more gun violence and pushing younger children into more dangerous jobs.

Consider Arkansas, which in April 2021 became the first state to outlaw transition-related medical treatment for minors.

A few month ago, after children were found working at a factory owned by Tyson Foods, Arkansas’s second-largest private employer, state lawmakers repealed restrictions on work for 14- and 15-year-olds and eliminated a requirement that children under 16 get a state work permit before being employed.

Arkansas also has some of the weakest gun laws in the country and one of the highest rates of children killed by guns. Republican lawmakers in the state now allow concealed guns to be carried at universities.

Or consider Iowa. Weeks ago, Republicans there prohibited doctors from giving gender-affirming care to transgender minors and barred transgender people from using school restrooms or locker rooms that don’t align with their sex at birth.

Yet these same Iowa lawmakers are lifting restrictions on children employed in hazardous jobs — allowing children as young as 14 to work in meat coolers and industrial laundries and drive themselves up to 50 miles to and from work between 5:00 am and 10:00 pm, and teens as young as 15 to work on assembly lines.

Iowa Republicans have also repealed a longstanding state law requiring handgun background checks.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has portrayed transgender medical care as a major threat to the wellbeing of Florida’s children. At the same time, DeSantis has relaxed child labor rules. And he just signed into law a bill allowing Floridians to carry guns without a state permit.

And so it goes across America.

In just the last year, the number of children employed in violation of child labor laws has soared 37 percent. Meanwhile, 10 states have recently introduced or passed legislation expanding work hours for children, lifting restrictions on hazardous occupations for children, allowing children to work in locations that serve alcohol, and lowering the state minimum wage for minors.

Many of these same states are also making it easier to buy guns, even though firearms have become the number one cause of death for children and teens in the United States, surpassing motor vehicle deaths and those caused by other injuries.

Republican hypocrisy? Yes, of course.

But it’s worse than that. Follow the money.

These Republican lawmakers are taking boatloads of campaign donations from corporations that need workers but would rather hire children than pay higher wages to adults, and from gun manufacturers seeking more business and bigger profits.

The quid pro quo? Dismantle child labor protections and allow just about anyone to get and carry a gun.

The Republican war on transgender youth is bad enough. It also deflects attention from these other Republican initiatives that are threatening the lives of all children.

These same Republican lawmakers are harming children by refusing to extend Medicaid, cutting school budgets, unraveling safety nets, and subjecting children to harsh poverty. And, of course, by forcing women to have children they don’t want or can’t afford in the first place.

The rest of us must act — against the easing of gun laws, against the easing of child labor laws, against cutting school budgets, against increasingly restrictive anti-abortion laws, and against the cruel targeting of transgender children. And we must organize and mobilize against gerrymandering and other Republican efforts to entrench their minority rule.

Please spread the word.

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