Dynamics of Child Labor: Labor Force Entry and Exit in Urban Brazil

The authors discover from an analysis of monthly employment surveys in Brazil's six largest cities over the last twenty years that employed children frequently stop work then start working again, a phenomenon dubbed "intermittent employment." This is not surprising, because the previous chapter on parental shocks indicated that children often enter the labor market to meet short-term income needs for the household, then exit when the need subsides. The implication for measures of child labor force participation rates are striking. Measurements of child labor that are based on point-in-time surveys can be one-half or one-third the number of children who are actually working at least part of the year. Furthermore, there is little difference between households whose children are working and households with children who are in school; children observed in school one period could easily be in the labor market the next. These patterns of children's work and schooling have important implications for understanding child labor in the first instance, and also for the design of programs intended to encourage families to keep children in school and out of the labor force. Income transfer policies should target households broadly rather than on current child labor market status. It may be as important to shore up income in poor households whose children are currently enrolled as to direct income transfers to households in which children currently are out of school. The high levels of intermittency also suggest that the cash transfers intended to replace the income earned in the labor market may be set too high, since many children do not receive a consistent stream of income. This would imply that the extra cost associated with the underestimate of child workers might be offset by a lower subsidy per child.