Not every teen wants to spend the summer bumming around.

Rey Garcia, 17, works in the cafeteria at Reid Park Zoo as a summer intern with the Pima County Youth Employment Program. He and five other interns do a mix of just about everything, from cooking to cleaning to manning the cash register.

It beats the alternative, Garcia said.

"Summer isn't fun doing nothing," he said.

The Pima County Youth Employment Program provides subsidized jobs for about 1,300 people ages 14 through 21. About 400 local businesses, public agencies and nonprofits participate in the program. Participants are paid the state minimum wage of $7.35 per hour, through a mix of federal, state and local funds, said program manager Dana Katbah, who works for the Pima County.

The jobs "run the gamut," Katbah said, from office work to old summer standbys such as concessions.

With even classic summer jobs becoming harder and harder for teens to find, Garcia and two of his co-workers said the county program was one of the best ways to guarantee they'd be making some money this summer.

"I have a couple friends who couldn't find jobs. They even tried getting into this program, but it didn't happen," said Eduardo Ramirez, 17.

Katbah, who works with the Pima County Community Services, Employment and Training Department - which also runs the Pima County One Stop employment centers - said the job market is as tough for teens as it is for adults, perhaps even tougher.

"It's kind of on the bleak side," Katbah said. "We really attribute it to adults competing for jobs that youth have traditionally held. There is just greater competition, and teens are on the losing end."

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs the nationwide unemployment rate for teenagers at just under 25 percent.

A 2010 report by the bureau shows a precipitous decline in summer employment over the last decade, dropping about 20 percent between the late '90s and the summer of 2009. The agency attributes a number of factors to the decline, including the rise of unpaid internships, increased dependence on financial aid to pay for college and shorter summer holidays, as well as competition from adults during economic downturns.

At least one think tank, the fiscally conservative Employment Policies Institute, also blames increased minimum wages for the lack of summer jobs for teens. The institute ranks Arizona's teen unemployment rate at 16th-highest among the states, at 26.7 percent, based on numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At least 4,000 teens applied for this year's teen employment program, which is at least a 20 percent jump since 2006, Katbah said.

Diana Guerrero, 17, an intern working in the office at Road Machinery LLC on the south side, said she's happy to be one of those selected.

"Definitely in this economy," she said. "My friends and I would just go apply for jobs, and that's what we'd do for the day."

For Guerrero, the opportunity to work was a no-brainer.

"I've learned a lot," she said. "There's a real sense of accomplishment."

Contact reporter Alex Dalenberg at or 807-8429.