This summer, Lydia Villafane, 17, is working as a waitress in a Boston diner. Harold Greene, 17, works as a cook in a fast-food restaurant. And Karen Kalina, 17, works in a Cambridge dress shop, doing everything from typing letters to selling clothes.
They count themselves fortunate. Of an estimated 19,000 job-seeking teen-agers in Boston only a small percentage have found work. Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), for example, received 12,000 applications for summer jobs and was able to place only one-third of them.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the June unemployment rate among 16-to-19-year-olds at 18.5 percent, a figure that rises in the summer. Blacks are among the hardest hit, with an estimated 34 to 50 percent unemployed.
Loretta H., 16, has a baby and no job. She's bright and intelligent, but shy and discouraged. She needs a job but has no skills.
"I go in and ask if I can have an application, but they just say they haven't any jobs," she says. "After a while, I just give up. It's easier to stay home and watch TV. My sister is looking for work, too, but she has about given up. It's too hard to take all that rejection from people."
Ellen J. and Kim S., both 16, are sitting on a bench on Boston Common deciding whether to go into any of the nearby stores and apply for jobs -- just once more. They've about given up, too.
"I'd spent the money I earned if I had a job," says Kim, "but I don't want just any job. I want a nice job working in a clothes shop or a record store."
Ellen had a job working as a hospital aide, but her mother made her quit because of late hours and lack of transportation. Now, she says, "I sit around and read or watch TV because I haven't got any money to do anything. All my friends have jobs, and it's hard because they have money to do things and I don't."
Nina Donnelly, a Cambridge, Mass., high school student, has been looking for a summer job since March. She is still looking. She has tried stores and restaurants, but she keeps getting the same answers: "We have no openings." "Come back later." Or, "You're too late."
Lydia Villafane found her job in a diner through a friend who saw a help-wanted sign in the window. She needs the job to help her mother with household expenses. If there is anything left, she'll save it for college.
"It's not exactly a career job for a girl who wants to study computer technology, but it's a job," she says.
Lydia has worked since she was 12, but not by choice. "My parents are divorced and my mother works as a cook," she says. "There isn't much money left after the bills are paid, so if I want anything I have to buy it for myself."
Harold Greene saw a help-wanted sign in the window of the restaurant where he now works as a fry cook. Although he says it is boring work involving no skills , he hopes to continue working there in the fall after he goes back to school.
"The cooking is automated, with dinging bells and buzzers telling you when to turn the burgers, or pull the fries out of the deep frier. Those bells drive me crazy," he says. "The work is mundane. But I'll keep it as long as the work lasts. My mom works to support four kids. The rent and food take nearly all she makes, so if I want my clothes for myself or my little brother, I've got to buy them."
Karen Kalina looked for a summer job and couldn't find anything, but the dress shop where her mother works needed help. She sees it "as a great apprenticeship. It's an opportunity to learn about dressmaking and selling clothes, but also to learn about the working world in a wider sense.
"Because I'm in school all day I've never been really aware that people work all day, they do this for a living. I've begun saving money for college. It's become a reality to me how expensive going to college is."
Among her friends, about three-quarters have jobs. "But those that do found them either through family, friends, or teachers. I'm firmly convinced that it takes connections."
One black teen-ager has had to deal with a special job problem. He says that the store manager where he works "is prejudiced against blacks." Says the young worker, "he makes racial comments all the time, trying to get my goat. But I just don't see him. I ignore him because when I react, it encourages him and he just does it more."