(KSLA) - The sign in the window may say "help wanted" and some employers are even willing to pay beyond the minimum wage, but we found when it comes to summer jobs teens may not be applying. In fact, despite the improving economy, the number of teens in the workforce is actually declining.
High school student Caroline Stanton's summer is packed. She is heading to Guatemala on a mission trip. When she returns she'll be volunteering. Helping her mother make meals and deliver them on a canteen truck for the homeless.
"I don't feel like I'm missing out on not getting a traditional part time job because I think by volunteering I'm actually getting a better experience, but instead I'm helping people," said Caroline.
We found over the last decade the number of teens employed during the summer months nationwide has declined.
"One of the things that we're seeing right now, a lot of teens are trading in their traditional summer jobs for unpaid internships, for volunteer work, for other forms of civic engagement," said Alison Novak, a college professor.
Other teens are playing sports, prepping for college entrance exams or taking summer classes to get ahead.
"They're using it as a time to sort out different options in terms of what the future might look like. So again, they're not necessarily sitting on the couch, they're doing things other than working that are still very productive," said Dr. Novak.
Instead of fattening their savings account, some teens are using these summer experiences to beef up their resumes and college applications.
Experts say it could mean greater earning potential in the future by getting into better schools, getting better scholarships, and making professional connections.
"These kids get experiences that could literally shape their future. They could make career decisions based on their experiences that could really range far beyond what a part-time job would," said Lauren Milligan, an Employment Expert and Job Search Coach.
But, are these teens missing learning the responsibility of work? Like filling out a time sheet and showing up on time and saving money?
Experts admit some could view a lack of employment in a negative way, but teens should incorporate all the skills they learned "not working" into their resumes.
"Remember those experiences so that you can put them on your resume. Too many times I'll talk to people when I'm building their resumes and they're trying to think of all the details that they didn't keep track of," said Milligan.
Caroline's mom says a part time job will be part of her daughter's schedule at some point, but she's hoping these volunteer experiences will help open her daughter's eyes to new opportunities.
"She'll be able to look back and kind of keep her eye on the end game, that it's not all about high school, but there's a whole world out there she'll be able to explore," said Amy Stanton.
Experts say families have to decide what's best for their teens and discuss what options they can afford.