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School's out, get to work!

Lifeguard booth

TESS VIGELAND: For most of us adults, June's just another month.
For kids? Dude, summer vacation! Luckies.

For many kids, summer time is time to stop working and start relaxing.
In fact, a recent study from Northeastern University found more teenagers than ever will be relaxing instead of working summer jobs this year.
They're getting edged out of the labor market by immigrants and retirees.
But as Jeremy Hobson reports, they could be missing out on a lot more than just a paycheck.

JEREMEY HOBSON:
It's a hot afternoon in McLean, Va., just outside Washington D.C.
The kids are out of school, and many of them are spending the rest of the day here at the pool.

It's obviously playtime for some, but work is just beginning for 15-year-old Wes Brandt. He's spending the summer working as a lifeguard and a diving coach.

WES BRANDT: So start on your right, since you guys are all left footed. Start on your right. It's a medium-sized step.

He's teaching younger kids the basics of diving for a little more than minimum wage.

BRANDT: I'm gonna probably be at the pool anyways all summer. I might as well be gettin' paid to do it.

His parents, Lori Garver and Dave Brandt are with him on that one.

LORI GARVER: He needs the experience, he's got to get into the real world and keep away from the computer.

DAVE BRANDT: Yeah, I think he should do other things. He was happy to get a job. There's a lot of friends that go to the pool as an easy thing to do, and he needs to learn to manage his money.

Managing money is not the only thing a teenager can get out of summer employment.
Jon Gallo co-wrote a book called "The Financially Intelligent Parent."

JON GALLO: Developing a work ethic, which is what you're going to go get from having to show up on time and work with somebody who isn't your parent and isn't your school teacher really helps kids in later life. It's the most significant predictor of adult mental health.

Gallo says getting these life skills as a teenager can lay the foundation for stability later.
Feeling competent, solving problems, and working with other people are all skills that can be gained from summer jobs.
He says these skills can help reduce the chances of a mid-life crisis or even divorce.

GALLO: All of those are just very important life lessons for kids to get.

But probably not the things that are driving Wes Brandt. He just wants some extra cash. But Brandt says he knows that he's learning something.

BRANDT: My mom doesn't tell me when I have to come work, I have to know when I'm gonna come work. And I have to say "Hey, do you have my check?" and stuff like that. I mean it's not my parents doing everything anymore.

Experts say even unpaid internships can give teenagers a leg up as they apply to colleges and future jobs. But not everyone has the option of going unpaid for a summer.

ANDREW SUM: Most kids work for the same reasons that adults do.

That's Andrew Sum, who directs the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

SUM: Being able to have spending money of their own would always go at the top of the list to be able to finance their own consumption. Second thing, particularly what you find is kids from lower-income families are more likely to contribute to their family's well-being. And the other thing that we often find that young people say is "By working early in my life what I did find out was what I didn't want to do the rest of my life."

Fifteen-year-old Wes Brandt already knows he wants to be a music teacher later on in life. But there's nothing wrong with a little extra cash for the summer.
So what's he plan to do with it?

BRANDT: Oh, I don't know. So many options but probably more video games. Star Craft II. It's gonna be great.

In Washington, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace Money.

TESS VIGELAND: This is Marketplace Money from American Public Media.

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