These photos, included in a lawsuit the U.S. DOL filed against a sanitation company, show minors working the overnight shift at meatpacking plants. photo: U.S. Department of Labor

Child labor in the U.S. has made headlines in recent months: a labor department investigation showed about 30 minors who cleaned meatpacking plants overnight, and a bombshell New York Times story detailed child laborers across the supply chain.

Along with the anecdotes, data seems to support a trend: Over the past several years, the U.S. Department of Labor has recorded more and more cases with child labor violations.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the labor department recorded a high number of cases with child labor violations, but then the figures fell, data shows. But, between 2015 and 2022, the number of cases grew more than 50%.

In summer 2022, in response to the increase, the labor department announced it would step up its enforcement of child labor laws. This included tens of thousands of dollars in penalties.

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Sky Chadde has covered the agriculture industry for Investigate Midwest since 2019 and spent much of 2020 focused on the crisis of COVID-19 in meatpacking plants, which included collecting and analyzing...