There were fewer "no shows" by youth employed in summer jobs programs this year, the youngsters were more punctual - even those who had to report to work at 6:30 a.m. - and they showed greater willingness to do menial or difficult work, according to administrators and employers in the District's programs.
About 14,000 youth, age 14 to 21, worked in the federally funded Washington Youth Corps (WYC) program this summer, sweeping trash out of alleys, painting playground equipment, typing and filing, washing dishes and doing various other tasks at the minimum wage of $2.30 an hour.
Officials attributed the improvement in attitudes toward work to the soaring teen-age unemployment rate, and also to efforts to improve supervision in the job program.
"I hope we may be coming out of the damage we did in the late '60s and early '70s," said Jesse Anderson, deputy director for Youth Services in the D.C. Department of Manpower.
Under earlier summer jobs programs, Anderson said, "along with the rise of black militancy excuses often were given as to why persons couldn't work, or work properly. It went to a patronizing extreme. We found that time cards would be submitted when kids weren't working. Kids were told, 'You're owed this.' They'd give the supervisor a hard time about doing anything. It was true in the whole school system, the business of passing through."
Now, the supervisors are "tightening up," firing those who don't perform, or docking their pay. At the same time, they are taking more care to explain to the youngsters what is expected of them in the working world, and why, according to Anderson and others.
Several hundred public agencies and private nonprofit organizations participate as employers in the 10-week WYC program, which provides many disadvantaged youngsters with their first paying jobs.
Among the major participants are the D.C. Department of Recreation, with 3,500 this summer; the Department of Housing and Community Development, with 1,500; and the Council of Churches, with over 1,300, according to a manpower official. The jobs are funded under the comprehensive employment and training act (CETA).
Howard Gasaway Sr., acting head of the division of maintenance in the Recreation Department, deemed this year's young workers "the best crop ever."
"My supervisors have always said they (the youngsters) just caused a lot of problems, but this year, we haven't had one-tenth of any problem with any of them," he said.
Lawrence Brown, 15, was among those who took his first step into the world of work this summer. He swept up and cleaned and kept the tools in order in an auto mechanics shop in the maintenance division. When he got those chores done, he said, his supervisors would spend time teaching him to repair the shop's lawn mowers.
"I liked that job just fine," he said. The $300 he earned will help a lot, he added. He is using it to buy school clothes for himself and medicine for his mother, who has arthritis. The Browns live on 14th Street NE.
Brown indicated that he was very much aware of the current shortage of jobs. That's why he is taking up auto mechanics at Phelps school, where he will be in the 11th grade. "You've got to have a trade," he said. "Once I learn a trade, I can have a job anywhere, take that anywhere I go."
Dorethia Key, 17, learned to type on the job this summer in a recreation department office. "I got up to at least 15 words a minute," she said.
Sherry Brock, 15, one of seven brothers and sisters, worked as a teacher's aide at St. Francis De Salles school, helping teach 40 children, age 10 and 11, mathematics, reading, sewing and games."I took a test, and it said I should be a teacher or secretary," she said.
Dwayne Mayhew, 18, worked in the cafeteria of the Greater Southeast Community Hospital, cleaning dishes, mopping floors and taking out trash. He thought it was "all right," he says. He has arranged to keep working part time in that job to help finance his schooling in industrial arts.
In response to past criticism, this year's summer youth jobs programs nationwide have put a much greater emphasis on the quality of the jobs, improved counseling and supervision, and smaller groups of youngsters, according to Robert T. Jones, Director of the Office of Community Employment Programs, U.S. Department of Labor.
"Especially in large programs such as in the District, if they just slap them in the jobs in droves, hell, they don't get much out of it," Jones said, "but if they give them some attention, the kid has a shot at adapting better to the labor market."
The competition is intense. A recent Labor Department report placed teenage unemployment in the District at 32.9 per cent and the nationwide average at 19 per cent. During an average month last year, it said, some 6,000 teen-aged youth in the District were unemployed.
The WYC program still has its problems, some of which demonstrate youngsters "trying to negotiate a system," said Anderson, whose Youth Services staff monitors the program. Some youngsters signed up for jobs at more than one school," job-shopping apparently, "which caused the computers to withhold their paychecks. And some youngsters used Social Security numbers that weren't theirs, he said.
Transportation is often a problem for youngsters, Anderson said, "but they seemed to be working it out." (Many said they took the bus.)
"Some kids have been reluctant to work outside their own communities, but we are beginning to try to open up that employment base, to get the youngsters to realize you have to look beyond your own neighborhood for work. You ask them where they've looked, and they say, 'Well, I, tried over at the shopping center.'"
There were still some problems of attitude in youngsters who were not ready for the discipline of work, Anderson said.
There were also some frustrated employers.
Jay Williams, director of the Paul Robeson Center for performing arts, said he had hired 56 WYC youngsters but dismissed 25 of them early in the summer because they lacked basic skills.
"This project took an 18-year-old all day," Williams said as he held up seven pieces of crumpled paper. They represented the girl's efforts to type a short announcement. "She just couldn't do it," he said.
Williams said he does not plan to participate as an employer in the program again. "This is a volunteer organization, and I just don't have time to be some kind of baby sitter."
The problem, he said, "is an acute sociological one in which people have not had the tools developed that allow them to function. They have become functionally illiterate . . . The solution to this ought to begin not in the Department of Manpower, but at the junior high school level."