WASHINGTON -- Half of American 12-year-olds hold informal jobs like baby-sitting or yard work, and by age 15, nearly two-thirds work, according to a Labor Department report.
''The American work ethic starts at an early age,'' said Labor Secretary Alexis Herman of the findings about young Americans' working habits, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday.
Still, the study found that a smaller percentage of the teen-age population held jobs in the late 1990s than two decades earlier, in the late 1970s.
During the period from 1977 to 1979, an average 30 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds held jobs during the school year and 43 percent did in the summer. By comparison, from 1996 to 1998, an average of 25 percent in the same age group held jobs during the school year and 34 percent in the summer.
The BLS study combined findings from annual government surveys of American households with in-depth interviews conducted in 1997 with 9,022 young men and women who were between the ages of 12 and 16 on Dec. 31, 1996. Findings were focused on kids 15 and younger.
The 1997 interviews revealed that about 50 percent of kids had worked in informal jobs at age 12. By age 14, the share of kids working rose to 57 percent.
About 43 percent of 14-year-olds were still doing only odd jobs like neighbors' yardwork or baby-sitting, while 24 percent had formal, ongoing employment, and some did both kinds of work.
By age 15, 64 percent of teen-agers were working -- 38 percent in formal, ongoing employment arrangements, and 31 percent in formal jobs that included hours worked during the school year -- not just over summer vacation.
The average weekly hours worked by employed 15- to 17-year olds were 23 in the summer and 17 during the school year.
White teen-agers are more likely than minorities to work, the study found.
Nearly two-thirds -- 64 percent -- of white teen-agers did some type of formal or informal work by age 14, compared with 43 percent of black teen-agers and 41 percent of Hispanic teens. Similar disparities persisted among 15-year-olds.
Girls were just as likely to be working by age 15 as boys, but were apt to be doing different types of jobs. Girls were more likely to hold informal jobs, like baby-sitting, for example.
Among 15-year-old boys, about 42 percent were formally employed while only 34 percent of girls were.
For 15-year-old boys, the top three formal jobs were cook, janitor or cleaner, and miscellaneous food preparation. Girls of the same age were most likely to be cashiers, waitresses or general office clerks.
On the Net: Bureau of Labor Statistics Study: http://www.bls.gov, click on ''Publications and Research,'' then, ''Special Publications.''
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