Multiple States Are Pushing To Allow Minors To Serve Alcohol

Serving alcohol may be one of the last jobs you would expect to see a minor doing, but across the country multiple states have recently passed, or are on the verge of passing, new laws to allow just that. Efforts to roll back child labor laws in different industries have been gaining steam nationwide recently, with states like Missouri and Ohio expanding the number of hours children can work, and allowing them to be employed in more dangerous conditions. The service and restaurant industry has been on the forefront of this, with some lawmakers arguing that working food service jobs is an essential way to prepare children for the workforce, and experts noting that the industry has been hit by labor shortages since the COVID pandemic. A key part of this push that's been gaining steam, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), is dropping the age at which minors can work as bartenders serving alcohol.

The new report details what it calls a "coordinated, corporate-backed campaign" to lessen the restrictions on child labor around alcohol. Since 2021, nine different states have introduced bills to do just that, and many have passed, with the most recent bill lowering the age to 16 in Iowa and another introduced in Wisconsin that would lower it to 14. The EPI notes that these bills often have support from big industry groups like The National Restaurant Association, which have been lobbying lawmakers at the state and local level.

The restaurant industry has seen a wave of child labor law violations

While restaurant owners claim lowering worker ages is necessary to fill jobs that have been left vacant as workers flee the low wages and poor working conditions the industry is known for, the EPI report warns that alcohol service opens up children to exploitation and abuse, with tipped workers in food service recording the highest sexual harassment rates of any industry. Even outside of alcohol the food service sector has seen an explosion in child labor violations, with companies like McDonald's caught employing children as young as 10, and almost 4,000 cases being reported by the Department of Labor in 2022, nearly three times as many as there were a decade ago. In fact, food service accounts for over 60% of all child labor violations across every industry in the country combined.

Beyond workplace violations like safety and harassment, children under 18 have been shown to be especially vulnerable to things like wage theft, which is already a major issue in food service. Serving alcohol also exposes young employees to underage drinking, and servers who are underage have been proven to serve underage customers alcohol far more frequently as well. Yet while labor experts raise these concerns, the laws loosening child labor in the restaurant industry are continuing to be passed at a record pace, and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.