More and more states are quietly allowing underage workers to serve alcoholic beverages in bars and restaurants, a new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows.
The impartial think tank received as of 2021, seven states – Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, New Mexico and Iowa – have relaxed legislation to allow teenagers, as young as 16 in some cases, to serve alcohol. What the report says can be dangerous for younger workers.
“While lowering the age of serving alcohol may be benign, it is not,” said the report, published on Thursday. “It puts young people at risk of sexual harassment, underage drinking, and other harms.”
In perhaps the worst proposed legislation, Wisconsin wants to lower the alcohol service age from 18 to 14, the report found. Meanwhile, Idaho hopes to lower its alcohol service age from 19 to 17.
The report alleges that the move to lower the serving age of alcohol is part of a larger scheme by the restaurant industry to hire cheaper labor and cut costs. In the nine states where the legislation has been enacted or proposed, minimum wage and tipping for youth are already low, the Economic Policy Institute found.
The report cited the National Restaurant Association – a national trade group representing the interests of the restaurant industry – as also promoting legislation to relax child labor laws.
When it comes to restaurant jobs, the Economic Policy Institute says workers are at higher risk of racial and gender discrimination, as well as sexual harassment and alcohol dependence. The industry employs the largest share of teenagers and young adults, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The report says advocates of younger workers often use the argument that they will be valuable in supporting employers facing a pandemic-induced “labor shortage.”
A possible solution to the issue, the report says, is for state lawmakers to raise the minimum wage and eliminate sub-minimum wages.
In April, US lawmakers introducedto crack down on businesses employing underage workers after the Labor Department reported a 70% increase in the number of children for the past five years.