A growing number of US states are working to loosen child labor laws so your next bartender could be an underage teenager

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  • More states are joining the trend of letting minors legally serve alcohol and bartend.
  • In April, Iowa’s senate voted to pass a bill that would allow teenagers to serve alcohol.
  • Legislators in Wisconsin are pushing to lower the alcohol service age from 18 to 14 years old.

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Bars in various states across the country may be staffed by high schoolers as more lawmakers and businesses push to lower the legal age to serve alcohol and bartend.

There are at least nine states — including Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, New Mexico, Alabama, Wisconsin, and Idaho — that have enacted or introduced laws that would allow minors ages 14 to 17 to serve alcohol, according to a report from Economic Policy Institute.

The trend has been gaining traction since 2021 as businesses and lawmakers seek solutions to an ongoing labor shortage. In April, Iowa’s Republican-led state senate voted 32-17 to pass a bill rolling back child labor laws in the state. The bill would allow teens to work until 9:00 p.m. during the school year and until 11:00 p.m. over the summer and serve alcohol.

The restaurant industry is backing legislators in their efforts to loosen child labor laws, according to the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. The National Restaurant Association — representing over 100 restaurant corporations — have reportedly lobbied support for the growing pattern. However, there are risks to putting minors around alcohol, analysts say.

“Laws that lower the alcohol service age will subject more young people, at younger ages, to potentially dangerous working conditions at low wages — all in service of employers’ pursuit of cheap labor,” Nina Mast, an analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, said in the report.

As businesses struggle to hire and keep employees, fast food franchises and factories have faced backlash for unlawful labor practices involving children. In February, Pennsylvania McDonald’s locations were accused of breaking child labor laws after seven restaurants were found to have 154 minors employed at inappropriate times, per the US Department of Labor.

Earlier this year, sanitation company Packers Sanitation Services Inc. was fined $1.5 million in penalties for employing at least 102 children ages 13 to 17 in “hazardous conditions,” according to the DOL.

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