Fifteen-year-old Blair Warren starts a lot of her mornings this summer the same way, with a five-minute drive in the passenger seat of her dad's car, making a bee-line from her home in St. Petersburg to the Madeira Beach McDonald's where she works.
Taking orders and preparing fries. It's not the easiest — or most glamorous — first job, but unlike most of her friends this summer, at least the sophomore at Dixie Hollins High has one.
Statistically, Warren is lucky. The latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 2008 could be the worst year for new summer jobs for teens since 1958, when Sputnik fell from orbit and Elvis joined the Army.
Just 680,300 jobs for teenagers were created this June, compared to the 1.1-million hired nationally during the same month last year.
But Warren says luck doesn't have much to do with her $6.75- per-hour summer job.
Even when every position seems to have disappeared, there is usually a spot somewhere waiting to be filled.
But there's a but: "It just depends on what kind of job you're looking for," Warren said. "Fast food, it's kind of easy. But at the mall, in a clothing store, that's a lot harder."
Warren's boss, store manager Dana Pfaltzgraff, will back her up on that.
"Everybody who applies gets an interview," said Pfaltzgraff, who has been working at various Pinellas McDonald's restaurants for the past 20 years. "I have more than enough people, but if I saw a diamond in the rough, I'd take them."
But not every employer can be so flexible, especially smaller businesses with budgets tightened by rising operational costs and fewer customers.
Carl Crable, manager of a clothing and gift shop on the boardwalk at St. John's Pass, said he has been forced to turn away more than a few job-seeking teenagers this year.
"Right now, I'm full," Crable said. "If you want to work for the summer, you need to have come in before summer even started."
This season, Crable said he's hired two teenagers. Last year, he said at least four were brought in to help sell his store's merchandise, stuff like screen-printed cheerleader shorts and henna tattoos.
The reason, Crable says, is simple enough: "It hasn't been as busy here this year."
Steven Rondone, an economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, says part of the summer job slump is, of course, the economy.
"When times are tight, and people are cutting back their regular employees, they don't have room for these part-timers," Rondone said.
But in an age of cheap and fun home entertainment-in-a-box — think computers and video games — and a society more geared toward higher education, teens may be more likely to spend summers at home, or padding their resumes with volunteer experience.
"In terms of young people working, there have been some societal shifts: Kids are staying home more, and teens are doing more academic types of things with their time," said Joe Cockrell, a spokesman for job hunting Web site Jobing.com, which has a page dedicated to the Tampa Bay market.
That trend, says Pinellas Habitat for Humanity communications director Jamie Cataldo, can be seen on work sites across Tampa Bay, and in Habitat's reStore home-improvement outlet.
"We've found that high school students are really excited to come out and help us," Cataldo said. "If they're too young to work at the construction sites, they help out in the reStore, cleaning donations or helping customers to their cars."
Dominick Tao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8751.