Could Changes to Child Labor Laws Give Us Teenage Bartenders?

A proposed Wisconsin law could lower the age to serve alcohol to 14

Beer taps
Some state governments are pondering big changes to laws governing bars.
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If you’ve been following domestic political news, you might have heard that some states are rethinking their child labor laws and bringing more teenagers into the workforce. (Vox’s Rachel M. Cohen has written a good overview of the issues at play.) A new article by Wilfred Chan at The Guardian explores a proposed change to Wisconsin’s child labor laws that would lower the age to serve alcohol in restaurants and bars to, believe it or not, 14 — a whole seven years below the legal drinking age across the U.S.

One of the law’s supporters, state legislator Chanz Green, clarified to The Guardian that the proposed Wisconsin law would still require drinks to be made by “a licensed bartender” — but that an underage teenager would be permitted, under the proposed law, to take that drink to a customer.

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Wisconsin’s proposed law would lower the age of alcohol service workers to the lowest age in the country, but it’s not the only state to lower that age below 18. The Guardian cites a report from the Economic Policy Institute, which reveals that that Wisconsin is one of nine states where lawmakers have sought to lower the age at which workers can serve alcohol. In seven of those cases, the laws passed.

As a number of opponents of Wisconsin’s law have argued — including both the EPI and spirits industry writer Dave Infante — the high rates of sexual harassment in food service create the potential for things to go very badly for teenage workers in bars and restaurants. How this will play out in Wisconsin remains to be seen — but given that similar laws are now on the books in several other states, we should have some evidence one way or another before too long.


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