NEW YORK - When Theodor Gervais was 14, he took a summer job selling cell phone covers in Brooklyn for $100 a month, sitting at a table outside a phone store in what he describes as "somewhat of a bad area." His cousin worked inside and, worried for Theodor's safety, checked on him all day.

Now 16, Theodor hoped this summer would be safer and more profitable. He applied for a summer job through a city-sponsored program in his neighborhood and found he was one of 3,200 applicants - for fewer than 1,200 jobs.

Across the country, poor teens face similarly long odds.

As summer arrives, the job market for teens is suffering along with the rest of the economy. And those jobs will be harder to find this year for the poorer kids who need them the most as laid-off adults compete for work on the lowest rung.

Middle- and upper-class teens are more likely to have the family and school connections that help them land summer jobs - as counselors at the camps they attend, lifeguards at the pools where they swim and clerks at the stores where they shop.

Half of teens whose families earned $75,000 to $100,000 worked last summer, according to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. Less than a third of teens from families making less than $20,000 had work.

Black teens in central cities had just a 15 percent employment rate.

Teen employment is down sharply since 2000, when the economy peaked and the Clinton administration ended a federal summer-jobs program. The rate of teens who had jobs last year was the lowest in more than half a century. *