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Students choose skills programs instead of jobs

High School junior Jenn Pinkos spent a day earlier this
month at DeSales University
learning how to stage combat.

Instead of sitting atop a lifeguard deck or grilling
burgers, the 17-year-old decided and her parents agreed her time would be
better spent at The Summer Theatre Institute, DeSales’ four-week theater camp,
where she could earn three college credits, and perhaps more importantly, get
exposure to a possible future career.

“I needed more experience in theater, and spending time
with people who are interested in the exact same thing as me has made such a
difference,” she said.

Pinkos isn’t alone in forgoing the traditional summer job.

For the first time since 1948, when the federal government
began tracking data, the number of teens who aren’t working or looking for work
in the summer has outpaced those with paying jobs.

Fewer than half the nation’s nearly 17 millions teens ages
16-19 or 48.8 percent had or wanted jobs in June, according to data released
July 6 by the U.S. Department of Labor.

That’s down from 51.6 percent the previous year, and a
significant drop from 2000, when 60 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds were
participants in the work force.

It’s a trend that might shock certain generations of adults
who were raised under the belief that a summer job, especially those requiring
long hours in the hot sun, is a rite of passage into adulthood, a way for teens
to learn about the real world firsthand.

But pursuing interests outside the work force is a hallmark
of Generation Y, also known as the “millennials” the generation born
roughly between 1980 and 2000, according to Neil Howe, an author who has
written several books on the group.

Howe is co-founder of LifeCourse Associates, a consulting
company that studies generations, in part to bridge gaps and create
understanding between the age groups.

Teen employment peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s,
Howe said, and the rate of participation fluctuated with the economy a strong
economy meant more teenagers working.

That changed in the 1990s when, despite a decade of
relatively strong economic growth, teen employment stayed flat or fell. It was
around that time, said Howe, the global marketplace became pronounced, and the
skill level required to make a good living increased.

“There was a real emphasis for parents, teachers and
counselors …(a thought that working) at a fast food place or being a
lifeguard gives you cash now but it doesn’t necessarily make as good an
investment as learning skills and developing internships, which will give you a
much better job down the line,” said Howe. “We’ve also seen a greater
emphasis on long-term planning by the kids themselves.”

That planning process is part of what drew Jonah Auteri, 18,
to DeSales’ theater program. Auteri, a who graduated from Southern Lehigh High
School in June, isn’t sure what career he wants to pursue but he thinks theater
may be an option.

It was a different story last summer, when Auteri worked at
an office as a filer.

“Last summer I had the most boring job in the
world,” he said.

Teens who aren’t working often do so with the full blessings
of their parents.

Rob Zimmel, whose son Nate, 18, will be a senior at Parkland
High School in the fall, has no
problem supporting his son for the summer.

Nate Zimmel is spending his summer playing American Legion
baseball and attending Parkland’s football camp. In
addition to that, the Zimmels have been on a whirlwind tour of colleges.

“He’s involved in a lot of activities,” said Rob
Zimmel. “We’re off somewhere every weekend. We’ve gone to Harvard, Princeton
and Yale just this summer. A job would not allow for that.”

Pursuing interests in sports and the arts isn’t the only
reason teens aren’t working.

“More of them are taking summer school and not just for
remedial work,” said Howe. “This is a high-achieving

Labor Department statistics back that up: 37.6 percent of
teens ages 16 to 19 were enrolled in school in June 2006, a number that’s
steadily risen in recent years.

Take Nicole Schmidt, 19, who’s not employed because she’s
studying fashion at Lehigh Valley
College and classes just started.
Until she secures a job, Schmidt said she’ll get by with her parents’ financial

So will 19-year-old Aimee Zukauskas, who took the summer
off. The reason? She’s switching majors from marketing to pre-med, and she
wants a break from what will be an intensive workload once school begins.

“I’m just taking some time to get myself
together,” she said.

Zukauskas plans to begin working again in the fall.

While fewer teenagers are looking for work, that doesn’t
mean that those who want jobs 6.7 million last month are having an easy go. The
Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate for teens age 16-19
seeking work was almost 16 percent.

resident Quashaun Mickle said he began looking for work when he turned 16 last
August and still hasn’t found a job.

“I applied at a whole bunch of places. I’ve been
looking at places since the beginning of summer … My mom’s even tried,”
he said.

His friends have had similar frustrating summers.

“I tried to apply to Wal-Mart, Family Dollar Store but
no one’s hiring you,” said Joshua Garcia, 16.

So they’ve spent much of their summer at the basketball
court in Allentown, hooping at the
free outdoor court.

They’re going to keep looking.

Information from: The (Allentown)
Morning Call,

– Associated Press

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