Safe job for a teenage girl
February 20, 2008 6:18 PM   Subscribe

What are safe jobs a 16-year old girl could do if she lacked proof of legal work eligibility?

Imagine a teenaged girl who basically fits the definition of "at-risk". She lives in a low-income, not especially safe community, and does not have the right papers to work in this country. Because of conflicts with her legal guardians and inconsistent support from her family, it's hard for her to even figure out what kind of immigration papers she does have, let alone try to get the right ones. As an obvious consequence, this person would have no money and low morale.

What kinds of jobs could a person like this get? How to get them? No big corporation will take her without papers, right? But maybe some mom-and-pop operations? Or, for instance, she could drop into small shops or hair salons in her neighborhood to see if she could do something, or put up ads as a babysitter....
She speaks English very well, and is friendly and charming.

What are other safe, non-official, paying jobs she could do?

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total)
Babysitting (like you mentioned), dog walking, doing chores/yardwork are all pretty safe, especially if you pre-approve the employers. Tell her to ask her highschool, I know the school in my town has a registry of students interested in babysitting.
posted by fermezporte at 6:30 PM on February 20, 2008

When I was 13, I had the dream job of working in an ice cream parlour in the winter. (I lied, said I was a big girl of 14...) It was very mom-n-pop and required no social insurance number; my first paycheque didn't even have my last name on it. The owner was lazy, to put it mildly, and the shop didn't last long, but it was a nice little job for a teen-aged girl. I can't imagine what the harm would be in applying at the mom-n-poppier sorts of shops.
posted by kmennie at 6:48 PM on February 20, 2008

Start a cleaning business. It can be relatively lucrative (most cleaning services charge around $25 an hour!) and she is far less likely to be questioned about her age or papers if she presents herself as a service business owner-operator than as a job applicant.

Start-up expenses for such a business would include a phone number with voicemail (pre-paid cell phone, pager, and Skype are some options) for clients to call her, some basic marketing materials (business cards, flyers, etc.), and cleaning supplies (packed up in such a way that she can transport them on foot/public transit). Maybe you could help her with these? It's not unreasonable for her to ask clients to provide their own vacuum cleaners, so she doesn't have to worry about lugging one of those around.

If she lives in a poor area then she probably won't be able to get many residential customers but businesses still need someone to clean the bathrooms, mop the floors, etc. and janitorial services are often outsourced. Door-to-door cold calls to businesses in her neighborhood (or, if she doesn't want word to get back to her guardians about what she's up to, a nearby neighborhood) is the cheapest way to seek business. Cold calling can be discouraging initially but remind her that once she gets a few steady clients she will be making good money. Maybe she could have some sort of low-priced introductory offer to encourage clients to try her services.

She will need a way to cash checks, because most business clients will want to pay that way. If she has no ID at all this could be a problem because she won't be able to work with a regular bank. However, not all is lost, I think some check cashing stores are set up to deal with clients without government issued IDs, they issue their own store ID or something like that? It will cost her in check cashing fees but it is better than not being able to accept checks at all.

She needs to dress and otherwise present herself maturely to successfully be taken seriously as an adult business person. Clothes that would be more appropriate for a 30- or 40-year old woman than a teenager will help "age" her appearance. Also, a makeup technique I discovered during my trying-to-pass-as-older teen years is to put on too much foundation and powder around the eyes and then squint to create the impression of crows feet "wrinkles". If she consciously tries to dress and act like a mature adult instead of as a teen then people will probably think that she's 10 years older and just blessed with great skin.

If you want to pursue this idea, I am sure there are books you can order from Amazon or get from the library about starting and running a successful cleaning business. Don Aslett writes books on housecleaning and I think I recall seeing books for professional cleaners by him as well. She will want to learn how to clean efficiently so she can provide a good value to her clients for her hourly rate and win their repeat business.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:55 PM on February 20, 2008

She could probably find some work through a church or social club, like CASA, or whatever group is around that serves her community as a non-profit.
posted by parmanparman at 6:59 PM on February 20, 2008

Oh, and do some market research on the going rate for cleaners in your area. As counterintuitive as this might seem, undercutting the going rate by too much will probably make her LESS likely to be hired because people will be suspicious why she charges so much less. Also, it is probably better for her financially to spend more time up front working towards finding clients willing to pay $25/hour than to start working sooner for clients only willing to pay $15/hour.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:02 PM on February 20, 2008

I have several students who are illegal immigrants, and some of them seem to get work either in landscaping or construction. I suppose those businesses could pay kids under-the-table for light labor on a day to day basis. It's not very consistent work, but at least it's some money. Some of my other students shovel snow for extra cash in the winter.
posted by christinetheslp at 7:11 PM on February 20, 2008

Maybe also tutoring in her native language?
posted by bindasj at 7:48 PM on February 20, 2008

Waitress. I can give you more info on how this girl can become savvy and survive. I know a girl who for 17 years has had to survive with... this and still is. Shes on her way to a masters degree.
posted by Student of Man at 7:58 PM on February 20, 2008

People I know in her situation (young, no papers) work all kinds of jobs -- mostly they use purchased or made up SSN's, which sometimes have a limited shelf life, which sometimes mean they have to bounce from job to job. In the community, pretty much everyone knows who is cool about hiring undocumented kids and who isn't -- that is something that is much harder to tell from the outside, but from the inside it's really clear. Here, there are two grocery stores that hire these kids, but three others that won't; ditto restaurants, etc.

The point being that the crucial information will be found within a local community of undocumented workers, not from scattered people on MeFi.

To work without even the most minimal of fake papers is much more difficult -- that means lower wages, less protection from unscrupulous employers, and a lot more difficulty. House cleaning in this area is heavily word-of-mouth based -- she might need to get started with someone who has an established client-base before branching out on her own. That's tough work, though, and I don't see a lot of 16 year olds with fluent English doing it -- the kids find options that aren't as difficult and (sometimes) demeaning.

It sounds to me that what she really, really needs to do is figure out what her status actually is -- if she is legal, she has tremendously more options than if she isn't, for work, school, travel, social programs, and so on. Generally there are non-profits and free legal clinics that can help with this, but again this is a highly local thing, and a general suggestion of "non-profits" isn't nearly as useful as "talk to the people at the X legal clinic at Y address." If she is 16 and is still in school, there may be resources within the school system that can help her figure out what her status is -- again, local specificity is everything.
posted by Forktine at 8:00 PM on February 20, 2008

Mefimail mail me. Living off the radar can be hard. Extreme economic hardship may await her unless she acts now to improve her situation.
posted by Student of Man at 8:06 PM on February 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

As an obvious consequence, this person would have no money and low morale.

As an aside, no money and low moral are not automatic consequences of being undocumented, having difficult family situations, etc -- I know several students in precisely her situation, and they are not uniformly unhappy, unable to access resources, and so on. Her situation is difficult, but even so she has options and choices, both good and bad.
posted by Forktine at 8:11 PM on February 20, 2008

Ok, so this isn't an "I'm thinking of fleshing out a plot of a fictional novel."?

The obvious thing to do is to get her papers and status in order and perhaps get herself declared in independent. The longer these kinds of deceptions get drawn out, the worse the potential consequences are when G-man gets on her trail (and regardless, potentially makes it more difficult for her to land citizenship legally, if she so decides, later).

Depending on the region, as people have said, landscaping is great; there are a lot of employers who used to be in this girl's shoes or who's employed people like her and are sympathetic.

If this person is academically gifted, there are all kinds of different "tutoring services" for kids of rich parents. Some are even aimed at "smart" kids of rich parents. There are local outfits and there are also "franchises."

Typical pay used to be double minimum wage + a buck of two (early 1990's, N.Van, BC. Can.) but the sweet thing here is that people would go behind the company's back and have a straight parent-tutor relationship. Parents save $20, tutors make an extra $5/hr. The person in question would either need to serve a transit-friendly neighbourhood or have a vehicle, though.
posted by porpoise at 8:50 PM on February 20, 2008

Seconding waiting tables. If you/she are living in a local where the laws don't require servers to be 21, she has an almost sure shot for making some money if she's determined to do so. I grew up in northeast Texas, had service industry jobs in high school, and was more or less "accidentally" undocumented until I moved away. This wasn't because I needed to be so, but because it's more trouble than it's worth for small restaurants to put folks on the book, especially teenagers with special labor laws.

Look for family-owned restaurants that serve great food and have '"suspicious" (read= similar to what you're shooting for) staff. They're pretty much everywhere.
posted by macrowave at 12:57 AM on February 21, 2008

Without knowing where she is located it makes it a little tough but many large cities in the US have support groups for immigrants. She may try to find and hook up with some groups such as this.
posted by JJ86 at 5:52 AM on February 21, 2008

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