Michael Green's search for a summer job started long before the weather started to warm.
The recent graduate of Traverse City Central High School spent most of his senior year looking for work. He hit the pavement handing out resumes and filling out applications, and scoured the Internet for job listings between part-time gigs at his grandfather's apple orchard.
Now summer is just days away, and he still hasn't had any luck.
"Mostly it's, 'Thanks but no thanks. We've got all the positions filled right now,'" said Green, 18.
Green is not alone. Teens in Michigan face an uphill climb into the working world this summer as they compete with peers and a large number of older unemployed workers for jobs in an already stressed economy.
"It's a very competitive labor market situation for teens," said Jeff Aula, an economic analyst with the Department of Technology, Management & Budget's Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. "Starting around May, large numbers of teens enter the labor market all at once, and there's a finite number of jobs for them."
"We had about 50 applicants; we hired four," said Nancy Plummer, owner of the popular Moomers ice cream shop in Grand Traverse County, where teens comprise the majority of workers. "Of those 50, some were seniors in high school and because our business is seasonal, we pretty much eliminated them from (the) pool. We need kids who can work in the fall."
Alex Hogarth, 16, was among the teens who didn't make the cut at Moomers. The Traverse City West Senior High School student said he was too late to apply for the ice cream gig. He also tried for a spot at Finish Line, a mall shoe store, but it had no openings and he was waiting to hear about a lifeguard position at Great Wolf Lodge.
"I have football during the week. If I didn't have anything, it'd probably be easier," Hogarth said as he left a downtown beach. "Most of my friends are having a hard time finding jobs."
The forecasted unemployment rate for teens this summer is 30.6 percent, more than a 4 percent drop from 2010. That second figure may look promising, but Aula said it's a result of fewer teens looking for work. The teen labor force -- teens 16 to 19 years old actively seeking jobs -- dropped by 13,100, while just 3,100 more teens have jobs this year when compared to 2010.
"What seems to have happened since 2001 in Michigan and the U.S., labor force participation -- the teen labor force divided by the teen population -- is on a downward trend," Aula said.
Only 44.1 percent of teens looked for jobs last year; in 1989, more than 75 percent of kids 16-19 sought employment.
Randy Waclawski said fewer teens applied for jobs this summer at his downtown Traverse City sandwich shop, The Dish.
"We had a ton of applicants, but maybe not as much as before," he said. "There are a couple new places downtown, but still, I would say it was about 10 (percent) to 20 percent less."
"This is just my opinion, but it's because so many jobs for teens are in the service sector," said Lisa Anderson, youth services coordinator for Northwest Michigan Works. "In about the last two years I've seen resistance by a lot of teens to take those jobs. They're not the cool jobs."
Betsie Stepka, 17, has worked at McDonald's since last year, but she's noticed that fewer of her friends are looking for work.
"They think it's impossible, or they're too lazy," Stepka said. She's even considered taking a break herself. "I miss having freedom, but the money is nice."
Michigan Works offers help for teen job seekers at its service centers throughout northern Michigan. Youth advisers can help them polish their resumes, learn how to fill out applications and prep for job interviews. Anderson said some of the best advice may seem self-evident.
"Dress well, and that means neat, clean and conservative," she said. "They don't always know what conservative means. I always tell them, 'If you were going to your aunt's funeral, that would be conservative.'"
Tanner Yanski, 15, said it's important to have a connection to land a job. He applied to two pizza places without success, but he's hoping his friend will hook him up with a job in his father's construction company.
Rachael Eby, 16, applied to seven places in Interlochen and never heard back, so she took a job with her father's boat repair company. Her friend Ashley Wright, 15, "pretty much applied to all the places downtown" and now works at a toy store. She said she had to compete with older workers for the job.
"I work with all old people," she said. "The one next to me is 40, and she's doing the exact same thing I do."