Summer Jobs for Teens are Hard to Find

summer job at mcdonaldsWhen I was a teenager I worked a diverse set of part time and summer jobs. My first job was at a pizza place taking orders and making pies. From there I moved on to various retail jobs including a couple stores in the mall, a GNC, a golf driving range, etc. I was lucky; back then there was plenty of work for teenagers looking for summer jobs. Sometimes you had to search a little harder, but if all else failed the traditional McDonalds jobs were always there. However, thanks to a rough economy and higher minimum wages, good summer jobs for teens are harder to find.

Should My Teenager Get a Job?

I have mixed emotions. Part of me recognizes the work ethic that can be developed at an early age by the added responsibility of holding a part time job. There is also some financial reward, and the opportunity to earn scholarships. However, there is a downside to teenagers working. Part time jobs take valuable time away from studies, and limit extra-curricular activities kids can be involved in at school, such as sports or after-school clubs. I remember having to quit my pizza job one summer when football camp started up, and I felt conflicted over which activity to continue. Part time jobs also interfere with the social aspects of being a teenager. When friends are hanging out at the mall, or a friend’s house, you might get stuck working until 9:00 or 10:00 at night.

Find Hard Work Before College

By “hard” work, I mean physically hard work. The summer before I left for college, and the summer after my freshman year, I worked for a landscaping company installing sprinkler systems, mowing lawns, and building retaining walls. Pushing a Ditch Witch through a 3/4 acre backyard in 100-degree heat will make you long for pulling all-nighters back at school. There was a time when I wanted to do that type of work, but I decided I would try to use my brain instead of my brawn (although I still enjoy doing this type of work, and even mowed lawns last summer for some extra cash). Continuing my education meant I could do landscaping if I wanted to, not because I had to. It was a good lesson.

Make Savings a Priority

If your teenager does decide to get a part time job, be sure to reinforce the importance of savings. In fact, anyone with an earned income can contribute to a Roth IRA (up to the income limits established by the IRS). Imagine if a sixteen year-old socked away $1,000 in a good, growth stock mutual fund inside a Roth IRA. Even if they never added another penny to the account they would have about $106,000 tax free at age 65. Now that’s a great head start on retirement savings!

photo by Randy Son of Robert


  1. I am a manager at at retail store and we just had a job fair. We had many teens apply the thing we had a lot of older people apply to, and generally they got the nod, just based on experience and known work ethic

  2. Having a summer labor job (roofing, book binding) reinforced the fact that if I didn’t want to spend my life in one of the lower levels of Dante’s Inferno, then I must get an education.

    Some people enjoy labor jobs. I’m not one of them, so, man am I glad I finished college!

  3. I worked in a warehouse for 2 summers. Looking back, I’m glad that I can point to it as the most physically challenging job I’ve had. Which means everything else has been a step up. 😉

    I think the ideal summer job for a teen starts around 10am (so they can get sleep) and goes to 2:30 (half hour lunch break). That way they get afternoons and evenings. Of course, it’s hard to find those.

  4. I worked many jobs as a teen including dental office receptionist, copier at a title company, and babysitting. I worked extremely hard at these jobs and it was hard to get to them. I think the other people appreciated having a younger person do the menial tasks because I had a much better attitude about it than people who had gone before me. Generally those who had held my positions had been older and not very happy about earning minimum wage and doing crummy jobs. As it was, I was more than happy to copy people’s stuff and file the patient folders!

  5. I started working when I was 13 making $3 an hour at a day care. That really taught me the value of a dollar. I got my first legal job at McDonalds when I was 15 and, at $5.15 thought I was now making the big bucks… that is until I had to fill up my station wagon. That also taught me the value of money. I’ve found that, even though I’ve always held a job since before I could legally work (with the exception of 2 months) I was still able to pull straight A’s and participate in sports. In order to do that I had to learn discipline and to use my time wisely. If I didn’t have to work back then I probably would have lost many of the lessons I’ve learned that have helped me in life. I think sometimes we take it too easy on our kids by not having them work while in school. The more they are sheltered the harder it is when they’re on their own in “the real world”.

  6. Physical labor for a summer job is the best idea. I’m looking forward to my boys being old enough to start their own lawn business. I know there’s lots of money to be made doing that, compared to many summer jobs for boys, and yet they won’t be making enough money to not want to go to college. Back breakin’, sweat makin’ work keeps them healthy, hungry and busy.

  7. I’m totally for part-time jobs for teens, I would even through in some sort of “internship” as another option.

    A lot of my friends wouldn’t get a job just because of the money – they were pretty lazy and enjoyed “fun time” more.

    BUT, depending on where you live, there are plenty of opportunities that are much more interesting to kids besides the usual. Video game software companies, art studios, or anything that really sounds interesting to them!

    While the pay may be close to nothing, they may have way more fun and learn a great deal more. OR if that is out of the question, perhaps a job at a Game Stop or Best Buy… guys tend to like that 😉

  8. I recommended to my brother, who is 18 and about to start college, to work for a temp agency. It’s easier to get a job with them and they are designed for short spurts of work. I worked in one for a summer and a winter break and it was great. I earned quite a bit of extra money. It was a lot easier to get jobs and they were usually better since they were typically at an office where I could sit, rather than at a fast food restaurant where you have to stand all day.

  9. Getting a job way back during my teenage years was eye-opening. I learned about working. I learned about saving. I learned how hard it was to earn a buck. Most importantly, I learned how important it was to seek higher education (university or college) so I wouldn’t be flipping burgers forever.

    What I see in my community is many teenagers forgoing homework in favor of working to buy more iPods and cell phones. I don’t get it.

  10. I’ve worked all my life. When I was in 5th grade, I sold greeting cards door to door. I raked leaves in the fall, cleaned out garages in the winter, cut grass in the spring and summer. I baby sat. I cleared brush. I bought a car when I was 16 and started working in the meat market at Western Supermarkets making $3.10/hour which was 35 cents above minimum wage. Then I found out the guys sacking groceries up front were making $2.75 but were averaging another $10/hr in tips…so I transfered. I worked 3 jobs in college. I sold vacuum cleaners door to door. I cut trees and split and sold the firewood. I did everything I could to make a few bucks.

    I also quit working when football rolled around, but we won our state championship that year so I haven’t regretted THAT! I was able to maintain a healthy relationship with my peers even though I worked a ton of jobs doing a vast array of different things. The good thing was, my friend’s parents knew they could call on me to shovel dirt or spread mulch in their yards. My friends would stand there and watch, then go inside and watch reruns of Happy Days.

  11. Also to blame for the lack of summer jobs are child labor laws and insurance liability.

    Used to be a kid could go make his summer money picking strawberries, beans, etc, or tossing hay bales around. Now you have to be 16 to do that. I think kids need to learn the work ethic long before 16, so they should have their own chores at home.

    Only reprieve for kids is for those lucky enough to have a relative in business – kids can go to work for a relative with no age limitations – and can work on the family farm with no age limitations. In both cases tho, it is good to have that proper balance between work and play and school 🙂

  12. I think having summer jobs are important and while harder to find jobs now, there are places online to make it easier to land one. My 17-year-old sister and I created to help our peers – I think it can help your teenager too!