SCOTT SIMON, host: And while the overall unemployment rate is stuck at 9.1 percent, the unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds has been going up since February. Currently, 25.4 percent of teenagers who want jobs just can't find them. Not having a summer or after-school job can affect more than just a kid's wallet; it's got real consequences for their personal and financial development. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.
HEATHER BURRONE: Welcome to Brighton Dairy Queen how can I help you?
SONARI GLINTON: Inside the cramped quarters of the Dairy Queen in downtown Brighton, Michigan, you'll find four workers. One of them is Kyle Hughes. He's 17 years old. He's six-three now, and judging from the size of his limbs, he's probably got another good growth spurt coming before he leaves high school next year. He kind of puffs up with pride when he shows me how a real expert makes a Blizzard.
KYLE HUGHES: This one only takes about a half ladle of chocolate syrup 'cause it's a small one. I just put it on 50 because it normally makes a mess.
(SOUNDBITE OF BLENDER)
HUGHES: Wait till it falls. You don't want it too soupy.
GLINTON: Besides how to perfectly dip a cone, Kyle says he's learned some real lesson, like how to work with others, how rude customers can be and...
HUGHES: Kind of get the feel of, like, having a check, taking it to the bank, you know, seeing what I can do, like, 'cause I have a debit card. I can kind of get the feel of what I need to spend it on and I what don't need to spend it on and whatnot.
BURRONE: Is that all for you today? Just the one cone? OK. It's $2.22.
GLINTON: Heather Burrone is 19. You can probably hear how genuinely friendly she is. What you can't see is how confident and in command she is at the register. One thing she's learned at the Dairy Queen: she doesn't want to make a career out of working at the Dairy Queen.
BURRONE: I remember when I first started working here, someone made me cry. Yeah. The customer made me cry.
GLINTON: But that kind of toughens you up, though, doesn't it?
BURRONE: It did. It toughened me up a little bit and got me a little bit used to, like, criticism or, like - it does make you a little bit tougher, you know, understand how, like, some people don't try to be mean to you but they are.
GLINTON: It may seem trivial the lessons these teenagers are learning, but they form the foundation for a lifetime of work. Dave Brewer studies the transition from adolescence to adulthood at Cornell University. He says kids who have jobs in high school are much like likely to have them when they're adults, and that's not all.
DAVE BREWER: They go to college and complete college at greater rates. So, it's a very powerful indicator of career development and success after high school.
GLINTON: Getting and keeping a job doesn't just affect the future for these kids. You can see the difference right now.
BREWER: They tend to drop out at a lower rate. They also are more engaged in school, because they understand why they're in school. They're thinking about their careers and what they need to learn. The skills they need to obtain. The credentials they need to work toward when they go to college.
(SOUNDBITE OF SKATEBOARDING)
GLINTON: It's near dusk at the Prospect Park skate park in Ypsilanti, Michigan. That's where I found Ras Wright. He's 18. He's been looking for work since the winter.
RAS WRIGHT: I've applied to, like, Burger King, Kroger's, well, not even Walmart, Meyers, a couple of restaurants.
GLINTON: He says he's applied for at least 15 jobs.
WRIGHT: And I get hassled by my mom. And I'm like I'm trying but it's just, they don't call back so...
GLINTON: Your mom hassled you?
WRIGHT: Yeah, real bad. Like, you need to look for a job. I have, mother. It's just, like, I don't know. I can't get mad at her and I can't get mad about anything. It's just I don't have a job.
GLINTON: Wright says spent his summer skateboarding and taking care of his dog. Rutgers University economist Bill Rodgers says unless teens keep busy doing something useful it's really hard for them to stay out of trouble.
BILL RODGERS: If these kids are idle for, you know, several summers, that they potentially can get pulled towards illegal behavior. Once they get connected to the criminal justice system, the road becomes much more choppy.
GLINTON: Rodgers says not only will teens pay a price the longer they're delayed getting their first job, so will society. Sonari Glinton, NPR News.