President Reagan's suggestion that every company hire one jobless person as a means of attacking the nation's unemployment problem apparently has little support among Washington-area business officials.
At least the leadership of the 4,500-member Greater Washington Board of Trade doesn't think much of the idea. One official of the area's leading business advocacy organization called the Reagan proposal "ludicrous."
But it was the board's newly elected president, Thomas J. Owen, who put the business community's position in perspective yesterday when a reporter asked what he thought of Reagan's suggestion.
"We're going through a recession, experiencing business contraction," said Owen. "And it's not at a time that you're experiencing business contraction and fighting for survival of your business in many, many cases that one can afford to go out and hire. To the contrary, many businesses are laying off people because of the general condition of the economy.
"I think that's not necessarily a viable alternative," Owen said of the president's suggestion, when pressed further.
Asked what, if anything, the board rather than individual businesses should be doing to address the unemployment problem here, Owen declared: "The board is interested in seeing that all businesses that were in business on Jan. 1, 1983, are still in business on Jan. 1, 1984."
Unemployment statistics for the Washington area, increased business failures, a high office vacancy rate, a sluggish housing industry and weak retail sales support Owen's contention that businesses are fighting for survival, laying off workers and retrenching.
And Owen and other Board of Trade officials are correct when they say that every business can't afford to implement even a one-job special hiring program.
But with all the resources available to it, surely the Board of Trade must be capable of coming up with some way to help ease the local unemployment situation.
In fact, the board already has proved it can devise viable alternatives to address major unemployment problems. In his final report to members last year, Owen's predecessor, Stephen D. Harlan, recalled the board's effort in assisting RIFed federal employes.
"Throughout the year, we never lost sight of the needs of the unemployed in greater Washington," Harlan recalled. "We sponsored counseling for RIFed federal employes and identified potential private-sector employers. We gave aid and support to the Office of Personnel Management and its computer job-referral system."
Reminded that his organization had marshaled its resources in an effort to assist thousands of unemployed federal workers, a Board of Trade official explained that it was responding to a request from an agency. "We would do the same thing if we received a request from another agency," the official maintained, adding that the same would apply if some group in the private sector sought help from the board.
Perhaps there is a message there for officials of Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers who are attempting to assist the more than 1,200 employes who will be out of work in a week when the Memco stores close. A union official said he is optimistic that most of the 375 Memco food department employes will he hired by other food retailers in the area.
But of the 1,200 general-merchandise employes who will lose their jobs next week, the official conceded: "I don't know what the hell all those people are going to do."
Lucky Stores Inc.'s decision to close its 13 Memco stores in the area and Woolco's demise will put more than 2,000 retail employes out of work in metropolitan Washington--the largest group to be laid off by a single company since The Washington Star ceased operating in 1981.
It's unlikely that retailers in the area are in a position to absorb that many employes. But a private-sector initiative that would include counseling and referrals could make a difference in the unemployment rate and the ripple effect on business in general.
In a review of the Board of Trade's accomplishments under his leadership last year, Harlan wrote: "We led the way, as we do year after year, serving the people of greater Washington."