An estimated 400,000 workers aged 12 to 18 are among the farmworkers who do the vital, difficult and dangerous work that feeds us all.
It's common for the workers, who are as young as 12, to work eight to 12 hours a day, sometimes more, six days a week during the summer when school's not in session, and up to 18 hours a week at other times of the year. They risk pesticide poisoning and exhaustion or dehydration from working under the hot sun.
They suffer fatalities at five times the rate of children doing other work and far more disabling injuries. Although federal law prohibits children under 18 from doing hazardous work in other industries, it allows 16 and 17 year olds to do hazardous work in agriculture, which is the country's most hazardous industry.
That the youngsters are allowed to work up to 18 hours a week during school months is the main cause for their generally poor school attendance. They're too busy earning money for their very poor families to attend school regularly. Many end up dropping out of school.
U.S. agriculture is in many ways quite advanced. But its labor practices are strictly 19th century. We've come a long way since child labor was a common practice. It's past time that agriculture caught up.