A young economy

DOING THE ROUNDS: Kaleb Alexander-Singh from Papakura, Auckland, earns around $3 or $4 an hour delivering advertising fliers around his neighbourhood.
DOING THE ROUNDS: Kaleb Alexander-Singh from Papakura, Auckland, earns around $3 or $4 an hour delivering advertising fliers around his neighbourhood.

Children in New Zealand contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy, enough to put an iPad mini in the hands of every school-aged student in the country.

Over the 2011-2012 financial year, around 73,000 children under the age of 18 earned $313,255,000, a figure that includes only wage and salary earners not receiving social entitlements. That works out to be around $4300 a year each. Many more earn cash from activities such as busking.

Kaleb Alexander-Singh, 16, from Auckland's Papakura, fills his wallet by delivering advertisting pamphlets, and mowing lawns around his neighbourhood.

The delivery job, which takes the bulk of his time, involves him folding stacks of junkmail in to bundles, which he carts around the streets on his ageing bike. He got into the job at 13, after inheriting one of his cousin's shifts.

"My cousin had his run, and I started helping him on Sundays - then one of my friends went away on holiday for a bit. Somehow I progressed from that one to this one."

Scoffing at the so-called "paper-boy tax" (see factbox) and describing his modest income as "not enough", Kaleb said he earns between $3 and $4 an hour. "By the time I fold them all and deliver them all it works out to be $16 a run," he said. "It's pretty stink we get taxed on that now too."

Kaleb splits his paycheck three ways - 10 per cent is tithed, half goes into long-term savings, and the rest is earmarked for spending.

Another venture, which pays slightly more, is when he goes beyond the letterbox to mow lawns. He picks up casual shifts when the owner of the mowing company gets a sore shoulder and has to pass on the work he cannot finish.

"I've got some work mowing, I'll be sticking with that for a while hopefully. I do the heavy lifting, it makes it a bit easier on him."

When Kaleb's workload gets too hefty he starts recruiting his younger siblings.

"I just give them the money for the run, and tell them to do it," he said.

First in the job queue is Rebekah, an 11-year-old who spends her hard-earned dollars on extra dance classes and trips with her friends.

Ten-year-old Luke, 7-year old Mikah, and the youngest of the bunch, 5-year-old Kezia, even get involved and help fold up the pamphlets before they go out.

Rebekah, an aspiring pre-school teacher, who delivers the pamphlets under the supervision of her mum Vicki, already has her next part-time job lined up.

"I can't wait until I turn 14," she said. "Then I'll become a babysitter. I already have families lined up, I love children."

She said she is going to spend her earnings on an iceskating trip with friends for her birthday.

While the Alexander-Singh production line huddles around a coffee table folding junkmail, a 14-year-old Hamiltonian takes to the stage.

Ethan Bai started his career a couple of years ago, after telling his mum and dad he wanted to become an actor. They promptly signed him up with The Human Agency in Auckland.

Ethan was the main actor in the Rugby World Cup opening ceremony, has been in Shortland Street, and is now on the latest Tip Top bread campaign - where he is the one scoffing down toast.

For his star appearance in the Rugby World Cup opening ceremony, he said he did not get paid a lot, but it was a "pretty awesome" fusion of his favourite things - acting and sport.

"I didn't get that much pay but they did pay for all my transport from Hamilton to Auckland," he said.

On set as a Shortland Street extra, Ethan said he gets a couple of hundred dollars per shoot, but he does not see a dime - it goes straight into a savings account.

"All of it goes straight into savings, but I love doing it so much I'd do it for free," he said.

In the words of his agent Shona McCullagh, it is "not a bad way to earn pocket money".

Ethan is dead-set on treading the path to fame, and aims to be a movie star in action films.

In the shaky city, 14-year-old Tom Collins takes his electric guitar to the streets of Christchurch to make money.

"I think my dad suggested it to me. I went down to the market one time and tried it out, and got a good response," he said.

"I play the guitar. I'm making music for the people - music people can recognise, like nice melodies and good music."

Tom's best day for earnings saw him rake in $160 - his lowest, $70.

Of the songs he plays for his Lyttelton fans, the tunes that draw a crowd are The Beatles' Here Comes the Sun, and Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven.

He has been busking for just over a year, on about five occassions, and it has been fruitful enough for him to buy a new phone.

"One of the occasions I busked was for a fundraiser, and another time I went when my phone got stolen. I got a reasonable one - not an iPhone or anything."

He said his parents are all for his busking, and help him set up his amp before a day of busking.

From frets to threads, Tom is also looking at designing clothes with a couple of his friends from St Andrews College.

As well as doing their part for the economy, Retirement Commissioner Diana Crossan said working children learn about the value of the dollar, whether it's to replace a stolen phone or gets spent at the corner dairy.

"It's a good time to learn the concept of keeping some for yourself and sharing some - use some, share some, save some.

"It is important to get that balance though - kids don't realise it at the time but it does affect school work. In the long run, it's better to do school work."

She said though the $300m figure may be a drop in the ocean when it comes to GDP figures, these holiday and weekend jobs are at least setting children up for the job market.

Sunday Star Times