With roughly a hundred people crammed into Marcello Assante's small Manhattan restaurant, you would think business was going well for the family-run cafe. However, on a spring afternoon, the crowded dining area of Ciao West was full of people looking to make money rather than spend it.
After posting an ad for a summer job on Craigslist, Assante received an astounding 100 responses for a mere two available positions. A large percentage of these applicants had been students at nearby New York University on the hunt for summer employment.
Paula Lee, the director of career development at NYU's Career Center, affirmed the discouraging trend.
"Every year is competitive for summer jobs, but because of the economy it has definitely gotten worse," she said.
In a slower economy, college students are noticing increased competition for summer jobs. This is especially true within industries once thought of as reliable sources of temporary employment, such as food and retail. With unemployment rates across the nation reaching nearly 9 percent, more people are interested in jobs generally filled by college-aged workers.
"Alumni that may have lost their jobs might have to take a job that is not equivalent to their years of experience or their educational degree in order to pay their bills," Lee said. "There's then a trickle-down effect making it more competitive for college students."
Ben Halstead, a senior film major at NYU, is experiencing this effect first-hand. After weeks of searching for a summer job, he is beginning to feel anxious over his lack of opportunities.
"I've sent out a good 10 or 12 resumes, and I've heard back from no one. Not even to say thanks for the resume," said Halstead, a student whose past part-time work experience included Jamba Juice and local movie theaters.
"I've done smaller jobs that don't pay well and this summer I would really like to get paid more," he said. "I need the money."
Laura VanWylen, a student at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, is playing it safe. She immediately decided to accept an offer for a part-time job through her school rather than going home for the summer.
"I have so many friends that don't have summer work that I didn't want to risk going home and not having a job," she said.
Like VanWylen, many students who have succeeded in obtaining summer jobs have had to settle. Lindsay Boeve, a student at Hope College in Holland, Mich., believes that college students have expectations that are generally too high when it comes to summer jobs.
"I work at a hardware store," Boeve said. "But it gives me some extra cash so why turn it down?"
College students still seeking work may have to lower their expectations and hopes for high wages, but they aren't the only ones regretting the economic situation.
"It's incredible how few jobs there are compared to the number of applying," Assante said from his bustling cafe. "I wanted to hire everyone, but this is a small cafe. You just can't have them all."
Liz Kreutz and Will Pulos are correspondents for Palestra.net.