- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2002

AUSTIN, Texas — The summer job, long the salvation of post-pubescent teens looking to finance that end-of-summer beach trip or the dream car that will carry them back to school in style, seems to be moving from rite of passage to urban myth.

An increasing number of teens have heard of the summer job, but have never actually seen one. In June, the U.S. Labor Department reported that unemployment among teenagers was up nearly three times the overall rate this summer.

Economists reason that adults who have lost jobs over the past year are resorting to positions that traditionally have been staffed by teens.

That means those once-odious burger-flipping gigs are starting to look mighty appealing to teens.

For those who aren't lucky enough to wear the hottest summer accessories name tags, aprons and customer-appeasing grins the lazy days of summer are even lazier.

"I've just been hanging out with friends," says 16-year-old Jamie Ruiz, who will be a junior this fall. She and best friend Carissa Wattner, 16, while away the days playing volleyball, sitting by the pool, munching lunch and wandering through the almighty mall.

"It's hard for teens because you don't really have job experience, and it's your first time trying it," Jamie laments.

Both girls began looking for work last month, handing in applications at Linens 'n Things, cosmetics outlet Ulta and a handful of other chain retailers, as well as restaurants such as Chuy's and Outback Steakhouse.

"I don't really need a job," says Carissa. "I just wanted one for the summer for the extra money and to have something to do so I won't feel so lazy."

Mild parental nagging hasn't proved a motivating factor for these two.

"They don't think I'm trying hard enough, and they say I'm just being picky," Jamie says of her parents. "I do want to work and have money of my own. But it's like, once you fill out an application and you don't get a call back, I feel like there's no reason to do it anymore."

City worker Kerri Thompson has a different take.

"I think some of these kids who are complaining that they couldn't find jobs didn't look past their rear ends," says Miss Thompson, an aquatic supervisor for Austin's Parks and Recreation Department.

She interviews droves of teens in search of a summer filled with sun, swimming and an unbeatable social scene. This summer, her office received 1,000 job applications for positions of the lifeguard and swim instructor variety, and hired 700 applicants.

"We hire responsible young adults who are up for the challenge," she said, adding that many who don't make the cut typically rely on their parents to do the legwork for them. (Hint: If the parent makes a follow-up call, it's a good bet the teen isn't hot for the job.)

Though she is aware of the ailing economy's effect on the job market, she suggests that teens' lack of diligence is another key reason some of them are left out in the cold.

"There are jobs out there if kids are willing to take responsibility," she said. "I think they've had it too good for too long, and now it's coming back to bite them in the butt."

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