LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Summer jobs for teenagers used to be a rite of passage. You know, I worked as a receptionist at my cousin's business during high school. Thirty years ago, 70 percent of all teens worked a summer job. Today, less than half of teenagers do. NPR's Jessica Diaz-Hurtado reports on why.
JESSICA DIAZ-HURTADO, BYLINE: Sixteen-year-old Matthew Howell from East Palestine, Ohio, hoped to be working this summer.
MATTHEW HOWELL: I have applied. I've applied at a McDonald's before. They've never gotten back to me. Tried applying for Dairy Queen. They'd never gotten back to me.
DIAZ-HURTADO: He says he's going to keep looking. But his mother, Amy Ward, isn't convinced. As a teen, she babysat and worked in fast food. She blames her son's lack of motivation on today's gadgets and technology.
AMY WARD: We didn't have all the mobile devices that they have now. My kids would rather sit on their butts and play video games all day long than go out and get a job.
DIAZ-HURTADO: Anthony Carnevale is not so hard on the kids. He's the director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.
ANTHONY CARNEVALE: First of all, they don't have the option of working for a decent wage at a young age. The jobs aren't there, and the wages aren't there.
DIAZ-HURTADO: He says summer teen jobs have been declining with every decade, beginning in the '70s, even as real wages have been flat or even falling. At the same time, he says, school, for many kids, has become like a job. More schools operate nearly year-round.
CARNEVALE: Young people in America, especially teenagers - we work them harder than we ever did, by a lot. It used to be, back in the '60s and the '70s, the young people had eight to 10 hours a day free time. It's down to two.
DIAZ-HURTADO: For those who do have free time and money, more are spending their summers focused on college.
EVELYN EZELL: I'm Evelyn Ezell. I'm 16. I'm from Nashville, Tenn.
DIAZ-HURTADO: She's come to Washington, D.C., for a pre-college leadership program at American University. That means no job.
EVELYN: I just didn't have a lot of time this summer because I did choose to come here for the experience.
DIAZ-HURTADO: Carnevale says it's a choice that will probably pay off. He says, compared to someone with a high school education, a college graduate will make about a million dollars more over a lifetime.
CARNEVALE: The time you put in the books is really worth a lot more than the time you put in at a job in retail.
DIAZ-HURTADO: Some teenagers do see the worth of a summer job, and they're getting creative.
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DIAZ-HURTADO: Seventeen-year-old Aaron Ivey from Maryland wanted more than the minimum wage he got last year working at a pool. So after seeing the National Mall in D.C. full of tourists, he started street drumming, or busking, here.
AARON IVEY: If you play your cards right when you're busking, you can make so much more than, like, most teenagers make at their summer jobs.
DIAZ-HURTADO: He says he comes here to play every day. As we talk, people stop and listen and drop bills in his white plastic bucket.
IVEY: Oh, thank you. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Unintelligible) Good job.
IVEY: Appreciate it.
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DIAZ-HURTADO: Jessica Diaz-Hurtado, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.