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The Problem of Child Labor

Although child labor had been subject to regulation in New Jersey and many other states beginning in the first decade of the 20th Century, the scope of government regulation and subsequent enforcement of child labor laws varied tremendously.

Non-governmental organizations such as the National Child Labor Committee and the Consumers' League of New Jersey, monitored the conditios of work for children and actively lobbied to improve the regulation of child labor. Conversely, opponents of child labor regulation, including agricultural and manufacturing interests and advocates of minimal government regulation of the economy, lobbied equally hard to restrict child labor regulation.

During the period 1920-1935, a number of reports were prepared concerning the conditions of child labor in New Jersey. These reports were authored by non-governmental organizations, bureaus of state and federal governments, and educational institutions. In one case (Document 3), the case studies of children in street work were done in selected New Jersey cities along with cities in other U.S. states by the U.S. Children's Bureau, an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Task: Read the excerpts presented in the documents identified below. Before you read the documents, write down these questions and respond to them using evidence from all 5 documents.


  1. What problems did child workers encounter?
  2. What role did state government play in protecting children from hazards on the job?
  3. Explain the effects of child labor on educational development and the health of child workers.
  4. Based upon these documents, what remedies for the problems would you propose?
  5. Discuss the pros/cons of your proposed remedies from the perspective of business owner, parents and child workers.


  1. Legal Regulation of the Employment of Children in New Jersey (1924)
  2. Pennsylvania Children on New Jersey Cranberry Farms, Report of an Investigation made by Janet S. McKay, Field Worker of the Public Education and Child Labor Association of Pennsylvania 1923, Publication No. 102 of the Public Education and Child Labor Association of Pennsylvania
  3. Excerpt from "Children in Street Work" by Nettie P. McGill, Bureau Publication No. 183, 1928
  4. Untitled Internal Memorandum, 1930?
  5. Excerpts from Migratory Child Labor on New Jersey Farms by Dimitry T. Pitt, Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in the Faculty of Political Science, Columbia University, April, 1933