In this summer's tight job market, some youths may revert to traditional tasks. But those who have tasted entrepreneurial success will likely push for more creative work.
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The Department of Labor and the youth club are now in settlement proceedings. But in the meantime, the state legislature has passed bills that exempt park districts and some not-for-profit youth clubs from federal regulations requiring workers to be 14. Darien Youth Club president Ray Jablonski expects Illinois Governor George Ryan to sign the bills and has planned a ceremony to celebrate on July 10.Skip to next paragraph
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Current federal laws do leave plenty of wiggle room for under-the-table jobs, and regulations against using hazardous machinery don't faze kids pushing lawnmowers or baking their own bread.
Underage compensation can often be "negotiated." Those Darien parents, for example, kept tips flowing in order to keep their youngest umpires on the field. More than 25 of them have stayed, and succeeded.
"They do pretty well considering how young they are," says Mr. Jablonski. "They live up to their responsibility, and they're always in charge out there."
Kids just shy of 14 may also enjoy hefty perks along with tips and tax-free cash. Joyce Chang, a 13-year-old from Sunnyvale, Calif., is working this summer as a counselor at a Chinese-English camp she attended for the past five years.
In addition to her $100 weekly "gift," Joyce looks forward to months of free food, arts and crafts, and $200 gift certificates to stores such as the Wherehouse and the Gap. But this is by no means her first paid job: Since third grade, she's been a tutor, charging up to $20 an hour.
Of course, with the preteen employment climate clouding, $20-an-hour jobs may be harder to come by. And those throwback jobs, like lawn mowing or becoming a "mother's helper," have become fallbacks. Since the tech sector tumbled, even some Internet-savvy kids have broken out the gardening shears.
Two years ago, says Mr. Rothberg of CollegeRecruiter.com, "it was very difficult to sell a preteen on the idea of mowing lawns or babysitting."
But this summer, those jobs may suddenly seem palatable again. College students are snapping up the retail jobs that once went to high schoolers, and high school students are taking work that, a few years ago, went to preteens stocking shelves and delivering fliers.
Ultimately, say experts, the job itself may be less important than the simple act of working with others. And youths in this era of self-invention have to go through the same process as adults to determine their priorities.
That's the case for Joyce. Though she hears a lot about preteen "geniuses starting businesses," her own priority, once she turns 14, is that her work "be relaxing so that I can enjoy it and meet new people."
She's planning a stint at a bookstore, or at the local Bath & Body Works. "There's a lot of responsibility in starting your own business," she explains, "and I don't want all that pressure."
The technicalities of child labor are a maze of allowable hours, accounting, and rules.
Until you're 18, and unless you're working on a farm, hazardous jobs such as building houses, working in mines, baking, or using heavy machines are off limits.
Regulations for farm work are a bit looser, but for the most part, until they turn 14, kids in search of paychecks must stick to paper routes, acting, working in their family's business, or, oddly, gathering evergreens for homemade wreaths
Even when they hit age 14, federal regulations restrict their hours: no more than three hours on a school day, 18 hours in a school week, or 8 hours on a weekend day, and no work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. From June 1 through Labor Day, the rules let up a bit, and kids can stay on the job until 9 p.m.
If you're a teenager or preteen working on a farm, the options are more expansive.
At 16 years old, you can perform essentially any job to your heart's or your wallet's content.
Fourteen- and 15-year-olds can work in nonhazardous jobs outside of school hours, and 12- and 13-year-olds can do the same, with their parents' consent.
Kids under age 12 can work on their parents' farms or, with permission, do nonhazardous work on farms not covered by minimum-wage requirements.