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Teens face tough market for summer jobs

High oil prices, a plummeting housing market and weakening retail sales spell trouble for young people looking for summer jobs this year.
Image:  Ben & Jerry ice cream shop.
A teenage worker hands an ice cream cone to a Ben & Jerry's customer in this file photo. The economic downturn could make summer jobs hard to come by this year.Paul Sancya / AP

I know teenagers typically don’t think a lot about the economy, but if they’re planning on working this summer it’s time they Google the word "recession."

Oil prices skyrocketing. Home sales plummeting. Retail sales falling.

Because of all these factors, there is likely to be a dearth of "help wanted" signs up this summer. And many teens may be extra motivated to want work as parents, seeing discretionary dollars dwindle, start asking kids to pick up more of the tab.

So teens hoping to be gainfully employed when school lets out should get off their keisters now.

Nearly half of hiring managers say they have no plans to hire any seasonal workers this year, according to a study of 1,100 companies released today by, a job site for hourly positions.

When asked why they wouldn’t be hiring, 31 percent of those polled said they didn’t have the budget.

And a report put out this month by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University states that "the summer 2008 job outlook for teens looks particularly bleak."

During the recession of 2001, the teen employment rate plummeted, says Joseph McLaughlin, research associate with the center, maintaining that teens are typically the hardest hit group during tough economic times. "We could be headed toward a historic low in the teen employment rate this summer," he warns.

Adding to the problems, he says, is the growing number of older workers going after traditional teen jobs in retail and food services, and also the increase in illegal and legal immigrants vying for those jobs.

"Employers view adults as more responsible than teens, and they don’t have to worry about them going back to school," he notes.

Jennifer Warrick, 17, isn’t worried about landing a summer job because she’s already lined up a gig.

She recently started working part time at Pretzel Time in the Fallen Timber Mall in Maumee, Ohio, and plans on boosting her hours to full time once school is out.

"This summer I’m going to have to pay for everything by myself," Warrick says.  Her parents recently sat her down after they finished doing their taxes and told her she’d have to start contributing more for things like gas and going to the movies with friends.

"I want to make sure I have a job this summer," she explains. "There’s a group of my friends that think they can wait until the last minute to get a job this summer. I say, 'good luck with that.'"

Looks like they’ll need a lot of luck indeed. Of those hiring manager surveyed by, 76 percent expect to fill those positions by May.

"The numbers suggest this is going to be a tough season for people looking for summer work, in particular for students," says Shawn Boyer, CEO of

Working against teens, he notes, is the perception by employers that they don’t have a strong work ethic.

One bright spot for summer employment, he adds, may be in resort towns because limits on H2B visas this year could mean fewer foreign workers coming to the U.S. to take on low-skilled, seasonal jobs at resorts around the country.

Overall, the numbers of teens working in the United States has been on the decline, as parents from all socioeconomic groups have wanted their children to focus on academics and extracurricular activities instead of paying work.

But this summer, career expert Randall Hansen predicts, enrollment in enrichment camps and travel plans may decline because of the economy, and that means more teens potentially looking for work.

"It might be the time to tell your teen that they just can’t sit around all summer and be on the Internet," he advises.

There are more benefits to a summer job than just cash.

A study done by Jeylan Mortimer, professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, found that students who worked built more confidence and responsibility than kids who didn’t.

And almost every CEO I interviewed for my book, "From the Sandbox to the Corner Office," said job experiences in their youth helped frame their outlook on work.

Harris Diamond, the CEO of public relations giant Weber Shandwick Worldwide, sold peanuts at Yankee Stadium when he was a teen and learned early on that "you have to work hard to succeed."

A job is also a plus when applying to college.

"Real work experience shows initiative and drive, which benefits high school students in the college application process," says Carol J. DelPropost, assistant vice president for admission at Ohio Wesleyan University.

So how do you land a gig for the hot days of summer?

The Internet is a good place to start since there are tons of job boards that specifically place teens in summer positions. Some sites Hansen recommends include:; and

Steven Rothberg, president and founder of, offers this advice for high school and college kids to target their search. If a student is looking for a retail job in Chicago, for example, he suggests posting a resume and applying on two or three big general boards, like Monster and Careerbuilder and well as several regional or college sites.

Then, he adds, "set up job match alerts or RSS feeds so that when new matching positions are posted the sites will notify you. Apply to those jobs as they come up, but otherwise don’t go back to the sites after your initial visit."

Job boards should only be part of the "Spend the rest of your time networking," Rothberg advises. "About 90 percent of job openings go unadvertised, yet about 90 percent of candidates apply only to advertised job openings."

Since teens are the cyber networking generation, don’t forget to connect with your contacts on sites like FaceBook. Put out the word that you’re looking for work, and your online friends may be able to hook you up.

Debi Yohn, author of "Parenting College Students: 27 Winning Strategies for Success," says parents should help teens learn the value of marketing themselves.

"Have them talk to parents of their friends, teachers, and adult friends of the family. The teen can let everyone know they are looking for a job," she notes. "You might role-play this with them so they are more comfortable. But remember, let them do their marketing. Do not do it all for them. You will deprive them of the lesson."

Even though some hiring managers may think teens are slackers, one insight that emerged from the survey was that only one in five employers thought experience was the top qualification for an applicant. "Almost all of them said a positive attitude was the most important thing," says Boyer.

Show up to the interview in a jacket and tie, if you’re a guy, or a skirt or pantsuit, if you’re a gal, even if you’re applying to work at an amusement park and everyone there wears shorts, he advises.

"If you’re enthusiastic and are willing to put in the hours," Boyer adds, you’ll have a leg up.