--But if there is any matter upon which civilized countries have agreed-it is the evil of premature and excessive child labor. --Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, United States Supreme Court.
Last Monday the Supreme Court handed down one of its rare reversals of a long-spreading opinion, and caught up further on the job of writing social conscience into the Constitution. In an explicit denial of both the language and spirit of the 1916 case of Hammer vs. Dagenhart, (Justice Holmes dissenting), the high court upheld the child labor restrictions of the Wage and Hours Act of 1938. The decision was long overdue and almost universally welcomed. But it should be received with an enthusiasm well-tempered by a realization that the evil of child labor is only indirectly and partially affected.
In 1939 the National Child Labor Committee estimated that from 700,000 to 900,000 children under the age of sixteen were gainfully employed in America's fields, factories and streets. This figure does not include "children working at home, merely on general household work, on chores or at odd times in other work." It does include a minimum of 400,000 children who are still working either part or full time and are not affected by the Wage and Hours Act prohibitions of child labor in interstate commerce industry alone. It does include an army of children who never get the minimum fair opportunity of a decent grammar and high school education.
Thus, effective regulation of child labor must await the passage of the Child Labor Amendment- to give Congress the power to protect children not under the wing of the commerce clause. It has been waiting a long time. Since 1924 the battle for State ratification has proceeded painfully against organized opposition and unorganized indifference. To date only 28 of the necessary 36 States have joined the humanitarian line-up. The Amendment has been fought all along the way by the propaganda and high-pressure lobbying of powerful interest groups. But a nation-wide poll conducted in 1937 gives a majority for the Amendment in every State, and a 76 per cent majority in favor for the country as a whole. It is time that this sentiment be translated into action.