Recent West Essex Regional High School graduate Eli Haba, 18, has never had a hard time finding a summer job. For the past three summers, he's manned the decks at the North Caldwell Community Pool.
As a certified lifeguard, he possesses a professional skill that sets him apart from his peers, a fact that several of his friends caught on to this year.
"A lot of them started [working at the pool] this year because they haven't been able to find anything else the last few years," Haba said. "There's been nothing."
According to the Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 reached 29 percent in June. That's about three times more than the national average of 9.5 percent.
In addition, teen employment growth in May and June was a combined 503,000, a 38 percent drop from that same period last year.
While lifeguard and camp counselor positions were still available this year in The Caldwells, other jobs that are typically reserved for students were filled early, either by returning workers or recent college graduates struggling to find "real-world" jobs.
"I got an excessive amount of applications," Rockn' Joe owner Daniel Sgarlato said. "I've stopped offering applications, because the prospect of offering a position is slim to none."
Sgarlato employs 15 students and three non-students. "I'm seriously overstaffed," he said.
Employee Cassandra Caruso, 17, agreed. A rising senior at James Caldwell High School, she said she's ready to start looking for a second job.
"It's hard since there are so many of us," she said. "I used to work five days a week, now I only work three."
Caruso was sharing a shift last week with Jennifer Whitmore, who graduated in May from Elizabethtown College. The corporate communications major hoped to find what she called a "real-world" job when she graduated, but is waitressing at Rockn' Joe as she continues to search.
Whitmore is hardly a unique case.
"A lot of my friends are looking for jobs," she said. "Barely any of my friends graduated with a job secured."
At Gelotti Ice Cream, the young employees know that they hold coveted positions.
"I'm evaluating them on a daily basis. No, on an hourly basis," laughs owner Russell Bleecker. "They know I can replace them just like that," he added with a snap of his finger.
Bleecker is clearly joking, but the light-hearted threat isn't completely empty. He said he filled the 15 summer openings long before school let out.
"I have more than 100 applications that we didn't even review," he said.
Forte Ristorante & Pizzeria owner Michael Forte employs between 25 and 30 students in "every role, from counter to delivery." He makes a conscious effort to keep students on staff.
"I try to squeeze everyone in," he said. "Right now, we're totally full. We were able to get everyone in this summer, but there's no room to increase the staff."
As Caruso begins her search for a second job, she said she will definitely not be looking in The Caldwells, "because a lot of the jobs in town are already taken."
Perhaps she should consider earning her lifeguard certification. It worked for Haba's friends.