Rob Ganjon can't figure it out. The 17-year-old Centennial student has worked every summer, but things aren't looking good this year.
"I've applied to 20 places, I've had four jobs before and never been fired. I have good references," he said. "It's awful. I've worked as a cook, supervised at TCBY and stocked produce at Produce Galore. Every place I try, they say 'Sorry, we just hired our last person.' "
The recession has hit the youngest members of the work force -- high school students looking for summer jobs. Compared to previous years, summer employment opportunities for students are scarce.
Some businesses have cut back on hiring for the summer because of the economy. And in many cases, positions traditionally filled by high school students are going to older job-seekers who may have been laid off from other jobs.
"Kids are really being squeezed out of summer positions simply because there are a number of adults that basically need to have those positions," said Bryan Rawlings, youth coordinator with the county's office of Employment and Training.
Rawlings said the department received 120 applications for the 75 jobs available through the summer youth employment program, which provides jobs for youths who are economically disadvantaged, handicapped or disabled.
The Columbia Association, which had seven junior camp counselor positions available for students between 14 and 17, received 65 applications for the jobs, said Debbie Thompson, CA's camp coordinator.
Guidance counselors at high schools say their "employment opportunities" bulletin boards have few job listings this year.
"This is the slowest year as far as getting calls from area employers" said Melissa Leffler, the guidance department secretary at Oakland Mills High School.
On the Oakland Mills bulletin board there's lifeguard positions in Bethany Beach, warehouse work at Capitol Express in Jessup and "heavy lifting" jobs at BDM International in Columbia that require students to have at least a B average in school.
David Glenn, a guidance counselor at Howard High School, said he's found that even jobs at fast-food places -- the last-resort jobs of many high school students -- aren't as plentiful this summer.
Some of his former students who are home from college for the summer can't find jobs and have signed on with temporary agencies.
"These are students with some work experience and a nice educational background and they're still having a hard time finding things," Glenn said.
Carol Peterson, the guidance secretary at Howard High, said the school has received very few requests for student employees this summer. Normally gas stations, landscapers, small businesses and telemarketing companies let the school know about available summer jobs.
Most students who do have jobs lined up for summer say they've gotten them through connections with family or friends. Many students working full-time jobs in the summer have held the positions on a part-time basis throughout the year.
Centennial High student Nathan Hunt, 17, looked for three months before he found a job two weeks ago at Turf Valley Country Club as a banquet server.
"I've been looking for four weeks," said Jenny Wienecke, 16, a student at Centennial High School. "At the Mall [in Columbia], they're not hiring any more, and grocery stores say they don't need people now."
Learn to lead
To address the shortage of summer jobs for teen-agers, CA has developed a teen leadership program in which students will rTC participate in community service projects and learn organizational skills.
The program will run in five two-week sessions from June 22 through Aug. 14. It is open to students in seventh through ninth grades and costs $210. For more information, call Debbie Thompson at 381-0986.
Students 16 and older interested in finding summer jobs can contact Phylis Haus at the Columbia Job Service, 313-7359.