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NCL to teens: avoid these five worst summer jobs

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One teen American worker dies from a workplace injury every ten days; advocacy group warns parents and teens to be smart this summer and protect themselves from workplace hazards

Release Date: May 29, 2009
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WASHINGTON, DC – With summer just around the corner, and many teens competing with out-of-work adults for summer employment, the National Consumers League has issued its annual report for 2009 on the Five Worst Teen Jobs, with work in agriculture again topping this year’s list for the third year running. Based on statistics from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a teen American worker dies from a workplace injury every ten days, and an estimated 158,000 youth sustain work-related injuries and illnesses each year.

The National Consumers League (NCL), which coordinates the Child Labor Coalition, has issued this year’s Five Worst Teen Jobs report to remind teens and parents that while it’s never too late to focus on safety when considering a summer job, it’s often difficult to see the hidden dangers in many jobs that are legal for teens to perform.

“Seeing the dangers in summer work isn’t always easy. Jobs like construction are obviously dangerous, but others like retail work can pose hidden dangers when teens are asked to work alone at night and may be vulnerable to robberies and assaults,” said Reid Maki, NCL’s Director for Social Responsibility and Coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition. “And at times, young workers performing seemingly safe jobs are asked to do very unsafe things, such as using trash compactors, something the law specifically prohibits them from doing because it is too dangerous. Choosing a summer job can be very difficult, even for those parents and teens who are mindful of safety concerns.”

In 2007—the last year for which there are complete records—an estimated 2.6 million adolescents aged 16 to 17 years worked in the United States, and that figure does not include the 400,000 children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers who work at ages younger than 16 because of loopholes in our child labor laws.

“Each year, the National Consumers League issues our Five Worst Teen Jobs report to remind teens and their parents to choose summer jobs wisely,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director and co-chair of the NCL-coordinated Child Labor Coalition. “Summer jobs can contribute a lot to a child’s development and maturity, and teach new skills and responsibilities, but the safety of each job must be a consideration. If you think employers, even good-intentioned ones, and federal child labor laws can protect our young workers from dangerous tasks, think again.”

NCL’s Five Worst Teen Jobs of 2009 (read full report)

  1. Agriculture: Harvesting Crops
  2. Construction and Height Work
  3. Driver/Operator: Forklifts, Tractors, and ATV’s
  4. Traveling Youth Sales Crews
  5. Outside Helper: Landscaping, Groundskeeping and Lawn Service

The Five Worst Jobs of 2009 report focuses on jobs that are legal for teens to perform despite placing young workers in potentially dangerous environments, according to NCL. Despite urging by advocates for Congress and the Department of Labor to prohibit the jobs known as the “most dangerous forms of child labor,” most of the activities on the list remain legally permitted work for teens, including work at heights, poultry catching and processing, driving tractors and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), operating chain saws (prohibited for only use on wood) and working on traveling youth crews that sell magazines or other products.

In this year’s report, NCL has also highlighted illegal work in meat packing plants as a “Bonus Worst Job” in addition to the legal worst five jobs. Although workers must be 18 years old to legally work in these plants, recent federal immigration raids have found children as young as age 15 working in meat packing. Reports that 50 teens may have been working in the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa and the more than 9,000 child labor violations alleged against the plant by the State of Iowa have raised great alarm among child labor and child welfare advocates.

“Meat processing work, which involves repetitive use of very sharp knives, is extremely dangerous—for youth and adults. In a visit to Postville, Iowa last summer, we met a young worker who cut himself processing meat when he was only 16 years old,” said Maki. “The truth is that even laws that are meant to protect our young workers are not being obeyed, and teens are at great risk.”

NCL compiles the Five Worst Teen Jobs each year using government statistics and reports, including monitoring reports from state labor officials and news accounts of injuries and deaths. Statistics and examples of injuries for each job on the list are detailed in a report available here.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.