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In the US, are There Age Restrictions for Getting a Job?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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One of the evils of the industrialization of the US was the use of child labor, which in the 19th and early 20th centuries allowed for children of virtually any age to work some of the most dangerous and difficult jobs, especially in factories. In the 1930s, the US sought to remedy this and also to mandate school attendance for children. As a result, in 1938, minimum age restrictions for getting a job were established.

The standard for most jobs, though this varies from state to state, is that you must be 16. Many states allow kids to work at 14, but it depends upon the industry. In some states, like Illinois, the minimum age restrictions for a job in agriculture is 12 years old during the school year and 10 during summer breaks. There are loopholes and exceptions to these restrictions, and there are some fields of work or tasks not allowable for those under the age of 18, or in some cases 21. For example, in the entertainment industry, children of virtually any age can work, provided their parents permit it. There are laws governing how much work children of different ages can perform during a day, and these also mandate that a child must remain in school.

Usually, if you work a job for your parents, you may be able to ignore minimum age restrictions. Even in a family business, you may be able to work without being 14. There is also no minimum age for getting an informal job. You can babysit, run errands, walk dogs, or do yard work for neighbors. These are jobs that are occasional, instead of being considered regular work, and you don’t need a work permit to do this kind of occasional work.

If you are under 18, but are past the minimum age restrictions for getting a job in your state, you usually need to apply for a work permit. These are often filed through your school, or you can certainly ask a school counselor to tell you how to apply for one. You’ll be required to get a parent or guardian’s signature granting you permission to work, and you must have a Social Security number. Ask your parents if you already have one, since most tax forms in the US now require Social Security numbers of children in order to claim them as dependents.

Certain types of work have much higher minimum age restrictions. For instance, if you work in the food industry, you cannot legally serve alcohol until you are 18 in many states. Further, when you’re 18, you can only serve alcoholic drinks on a tray. In most cases you cannot mix drinks, pour wine or even carry a drink to a customer in your hand, until you are 21. These rules may vary in states where the drinking age is lower than 21.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon242671 — On Jan 24, 2012

I will be 13 in a few months, and I want a job as soon as possible because I am planning on getting emancipated when I'm 14, and I need to have at least $8,000 before I do that (I have calculated it up). Then once I do get emancipated I would probably get a better job, and I would be able to advance (since I would stay in school). Oh, and I was wondering, if I got emancipated at age 14 then would I be able to get my license?

By anon73154 — On Mar 25, 2010

i'm 14 and i live in pennsylvania. i want to know what the minimum work age is and where i can work at my age? Thanks.

By anon5947 — On Dec 11, 2007

Hi, im english and manage a bar in the u.k, i want to move to seattle, and want to work behind a bar when i'm there but am only 19, can i do this?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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