Washington-area students out of school and in search of summer jobs are facing dimmer prospects this year than last, according to job counselors and company executives.
Federal and local budget crunches in Washington and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs have reduced the number of publicly funded jobs avaliable and most of those jobs are already filled. In addition, the troubled local economy has put a squeeze on many area businesses that usually hire summer help, making the job outlook gloomy in the private sector, too.
For those who managed to get in line early -- no later than April -- work will probably begin this week. But for those area youths still looking, the best remaining hope could be a good inside connection, according to various neighborhood and youth workers.
"It's almost impossible to find a job now," said Virginia Morris, executive director for Far East Community Services, an agency that works in the District's eastern fringe. "Most kids made their contacts around Easter time."
Nancy Cooke, summer employment coordinator for the Marriott Corp. offices in Bethesda, said she has already filled the 50 openings she had for summer jobs. "I have about 500 waiting to come on board," she said. "It's unbelievable."
Most public and private employers will pay those teen-agers working during the 11-week summer break no less than the federal minimum wage, $3.35 an hour. In some instances, summer work superviors may be paid more.
The situation for summer employment varies throughout the jurisdictions of the Washington metropolitan area, and the amount of money received to implement those programs affects the number of positions a local government will provide.
A large portion of the summer jobs will be financed from a total of $12.8 million in federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) funds earmarked to provide jobs for youths and young adults from low-income families.
In the Distrct, where unemployment rates run highest, early registration has filled the 18,300 summer work positions financed by city and federal funds, down 22,000 from last year.
Last week, personnel offices in the city reported huge numbers of unsuccessful applicants. International Inn at Thomas Circle and Sears Roebuck's Northwest branch, which had summer jobs last year, will hire no one this summer, said company representatives.
Although Washington's private employers as a whole have reported they expect to offer 7,500 summer jobs this year, many of them are included in the 18,300 for which the city recruits youths. But that figure is 25 percent lower than last year's projections, said Janis Langley of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.
"Our major employers are the fast food places and restaurants. This year is no exception. But kids don't seem to want them. 'I want to be a brain surgeon so why should I flip hamburgers?' they ask," Langley said.
For some 200 persons in Fairfax County, the summer job program actually got under way months ago. Students who registered as early as March as those jobs financed with county funds began working on week-ends during school.
"Virtually all our jobs are filled now," said Paul Baldino, supervisor of employment for Fairfax County.
But the county did not begin to fill some 550 openings financed through the CETA program until Friday. All of those openings are expected to be filled by no later than Thursday, county officials said.
Alexandria has 250 positions avaiable for low-income youths, but the initial deadline for filling those openings passed earlier this month. Those who missed the deadline may still sign up for the waiting list.
"Kids will always drop out, change jobs, move, leave for vacations. We'll fill the vacancies," said Ann H. Bland, coordinator of youth employment for the city.
More federal money for Arlington County will allow the CETA program there to increase the wage to $4 an hour for those 20 summer youth employes who work as supervisors. The county has 212 positions paid for by CETA. All are filled. Beginning Monday, persons who wish to be placed on the waiting list may sign up, according to Jama Call, Arlington CETA summer youth coordinator.
The montgomery County has hired 500 high school and college youths as camp counselors and swimming pool managers for the recreation department's summer program. Although training for those positions begin Monday, there may be a few openings, during the next two weeks, said Dave Bobbins, department of recreation director.
Prince George's County's summer youth employment program will provide at least 1,800 CETA-financed jobs for youths for seven weeks. The county filled most of those positions earlier this month.
Students that missed the early deadlines or do not qualify for the federal programs will also have tough going if they look for jobs at the popular term-time spots such as hotels, movie theaters and clothing stores.
In Ocean city, a favorite haunt for area students seeking summer jobs as well as some fun, Phillip's Crab House had filled its summer slots by the end of February, said general manager Carleton Joseph.
Above all else, special skills and occasionally, good friends in the right place may help.
Michael Dickens, a junior at Cardozo High School in Washington, said he found work at a paint factory that employs his father. "He told me to go down there and the next thing I knew I was working," Dickens said. "The jobs are out there."
Glenn Arkin, a senior at American University who enjoys singing in musical comedies, said he found a job delivering singing telegram at piece rates. But after finding that calls -- he got $5.50 for each one -- were few and far between, he quit the job.
Susie Smith, an 18-year-old graduate of Emerson Preparatory School in Northwest Washington, began her job search in March and recalls submitting at least 50 applications to boutiques, department stores and fast-food restaurants.
"I received not one phone call. I even applied to every store in the Springfield Mall and I got nothing," she said. "I was really depressed."
Eventually, she did land a job in the business office of a sister's friend. But she believes now that the summer job hunt should begin in winter. "People just aren't hiring like they used to," she said.
Not all stories have a happy ending. Robert Weeks, a 16-year-old from Hammond Junior High School in Alexandria, said he began the search two weeks ago.
Interviewers, like the woman trying to fill a driving job at the Alexandria Housing Authority, told him he didn't have the qualifications. "She asked me if I had a driving license. I said no and she said, 'Too bad.'"
Donna Jones, 17, of Mt. Zion, Md., said she has visited six or seven clothing stores looking for a sales job. "One lady said she'd call me but she never got in touch with me," she said. "I'll look somewhere else, "I'll keep looking."
If they really want a job, job seekers should look their best, said youth employment officials. "Don't just go slouching into someone's office and expect them to give you a job, even if it's just for sweeping floors," said Virginia Morris of Far East Community Services.
"You've got to act like you want a job," said Dickens, who a job at the company where his father works. "They're going to tell you they don't need any help, but keep going back and begging, and they'll give you something to do."