It was not uncommon for children to be exploited before the 1930s. Children routinely worked in hazardous conditions in mills, factories, and sweatshops, and on farms. They might begin working before they had reached their tenth birthday, and they received little in the way of wages. Labor laws did not exist to protect children or adults, but children were often subject to more exploitative conditions because they were easier to manipulate.
The plight of small children did lead to the enactment of some laws, and the federal government tried in 1918 and agin in 1922, to enact national child labor laws. Both times, the effort was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that it was up to the individual states to enact child labor legislation.