Tampa Jesuit High School student Eric Hoppes has spent six months trying to line up a summer job, and he's still hunting.
"It's not going well," said Hoppes, 16, who would happily sell clothes in a mall or serve popcorn at the movies. "People are cutting back. They're not hiring."
His friend Eric Greenberg, 17, also is jobless.
"I actually counted out how many places I applied to," he said. "Twenty-eight."
Among them: Target, Taco Bell, Finish Line, Panera Bread, Plato's Closet, AMC Theatres and Moe's Southwest Grill.
The livin' ain't easy for teens this summer. Many are finding that a weak economy, budget cuts and high gas prices are making it hard to earn money and have fun.
Nationwide, economists say this could be the worst summer in decades for teenage employment. The state's teenage unemployment rate, which accounts for people 16 to 19 years old who are actively looking for work but cannot find it, was 12.3 percent in 2005, compared with a national rate of 16.6 percent.
In St. Petersburg, budget woes forced the city to slash funding for a summer internship program that in past years provided 170 jobs.
"It's been really rough for our young adults this summer," said Daphne Williams, youth program manager for Boley Centers, which ran the city program last year. She said hundreds of teens and parents have called in saying they especially need the program this year because jobs are scarce.
"What they're getting from the employers is that they're more interested in hiring adults," Williams said.
Taking a break from the job hunt Wednesday, Greenberg and Hoppes found some low-cost entertainment by slumping in leather recliners and watching tennis on a big-screen television at International Plaza in Tampa.
At least the air conditioning was free.
"We're just trying to send out as many applications as we can — and hopefully get a call," Hoppes said.
Sarah Collins, 15, who just finished her freshman year at Palm Harbor University High School, spent Wednesday afternoon watching television with a friend. In flusher times, "We might have gone to the mall, hang around and actually buy stuff. We might go to golf or bowling to hang out. It's a lot harder now with gas prices, and no jobs and money."
She also enjoys fencing and would like to try out for a national or world team. But her coach is based in Palm Beach, and that means one very difficult thing — a four-hour drive.
"It's really hard for us to keep going because of expenses," she said.
Colton Peterson decided to take matters into his own hands before he heads to the University of Florida in the fall. He started his own business, detailing cars at people's homes.
"I always washed my own car, and I've gotten really good at it, so I figured I could make a lot of money doing it," Peterson said. "It's worked out pretty nicely."
Except for one thing. "When I'm filling up my gas tank," he said.
There are some bright spots. Publix is continuing to hire teens as young as 14 in its grocery stores, said spokeswoman Shannon Patten.
At the employment agency WorkNet Pinellas, president and chief executive Ed Peachey is pleased that in spite of a cut in state funding, his organization was able to save a summer career institute that teaches job skills to more than 100 teenagers.
His agency also is offering a "virtual job fair" through Sunday for people ages 14 to 22. It features several employers interested in hiring young people.
Peachey said the job fair shows that some opportunities are out there for young people.
"It just may be that they're going to have to look a little harder," he said.
Times staff writer Eddie R. Cole and the New York Times contributed to this report.