A worker boxes donuts and pastries for a customer at The Donut Man inside Grand Central Market on March 11, 2022 in downtown Los Angeles, California. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images
"The Donut King'

The big child labor exception

The Econ Extra Credit Team Mar 31, 2022
Heard on:
A worker boxes donuts and pastries for a customer at The Donut Man inside Grand Central Market on March 11, 2022 in downtown Los Angeles, California. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

“The Donut King” is available to stream on Hulu and to rent or buy on several other platforms. Today, we’re answering your questions, sharing your reflections on the documentary and revealing a few of our favorite doughnuts.  

“We don’t just have children, we have future employees,” said one of the doughnut shop owners featured in this month’s documentary, “The Donut King.”

Listener (and viewer!) Elizabeth M. was struck by this dynamic:

“The movie didn’t address my concern about the welfare of the children of Ted and the other shop owners. Were they attending school? Were the shops safe places for them?”

Whether or not minors are permitted to work, all states in the U.S. require school attendance until the age of 16 or high school is completed, whichever comes first. And elementary school has been mandatory for all children in the U.S. since 1918.

Child labor isn’t something that inherently threatens child welfare. In 2018, the Small Business Administration even made a case for why business owners should hire their children.  (“Nepotism —the practice of using power or influence to favor relatives — has a poor connotation. However, when it comes to your business, it may just be a great idea.”)

Federal laws don’t allow children to work in dangerous conditions nor operate dangerous equipment, but they do allow children to work for their parents for unlimited hours a week. While many states, including California, impose other conditions and restrictions on child labor, most have exemptions for children working for their parents’ business.

“The Donut King” reminded Tom S. of another film from the early 1990s, “Cambodian Doughnut Dreams,” which similarly focused on Cambodians living in Los Angeles with American doughnut shop ambitions.

Dan V. in Los Angeles told us that less than 60 minutes into watching the film, he had to stop and take a doughnut break. (We can relate.) He wrote:

“I grew up in Southern California and [the chain] Winchell’s was always what I thought a donut shop was. Similar to McDonalds, no matter which shop you went to, you always knew what to expect. There are only a few in a 10-mile radius from me and, as pointed out in ‘The Donut King,’ the ones that closed are now independent shops.” 

The Econ Extra Credit team’s favorite doughnuts

  • Carrie Barber, editor: “Plain cake with chocolate icing, fresh out of the oven at B&B Donuts in Fullerton, CA. For fun specialty doughnuts, I like Zombee Donuts, also in Fullerton.” 
  • David Brancaccio, host: “We run mostly vegetarian at home, so when I’m not at home and visiting Los Angeles, I go to a 24-hour place called California Donuts and get a big glazed doughnut with strips of maple bacon.” 
  • Siobhán Brett, editor: “Cinnamon-sugar at Boychik Doughnuts, a fixture at the Saturday market in my hometown of Galway, Ireland.” 
  • Redmond Carolipio, producer: “My favorite is either a chocolate glazed or an éclair.” 
  • Rose Conlon, producer: “I’m a sucker for a plain old glazed doughnut, especially fresh out of the oven.” 
  • Jarrett Dang, intern: “The maple bar from Rainbow Donuts in Diamond Bar, CA.” 
  • Meredith Garretson, producer: “I like a good old-fashioned chocolate glazed.” 
  • Ellen Rolfes, writer: “Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, the only doughnut shop I knew was Dunkin’. My favorite was a glazed chocolate cake doughnut.” 
  • Alex Schroeder, producer: “My go-to is a classic: vanilla-frosted, rainbow-sprinkled. A New England chain, Honey Dew Donuts, is particularly close to my heart. My friend’s parents owned a franchise; I have fond memories of them.” 

Thanks for listening, watching this month’s selection and writing in. We’ll be back next week with our documentary pick for April. Got an idea for Econ Extra Credit? We’re all ears: extracredit@marketplace.org 

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