The Rev. Leon Sullivan, the Philadelphia Baptist minister who heads job training programs in 150 cities, said yesterday that youth unemployment has reached crisis proportion in the nation.
Sullivan said the "War on Poverty" programs of the 1960s were failures that succeeded only in making people think that the problems of poverty and unemployment had been cured. Sullivan said that misconception allowed the problems to fester in the 1970s outside of the light of public attention, giving the nation a worse problem with teen-aged unemployment than the country experienced in the 1960s.
Sullivan said he is starting a "War on Youth Unemployment" through the Opportunities Industrialization Centers he heads, because the government has been too slow in dealing with the problem. Sullivan came to Washington yesterday to tell Vice President Walter Mondale about his program and ask for Mondale's support.
Sullivan said he asked the vice president, who is heading a government task force on youth unemployment, for help with the War on Youth Unemployment program and told Mondale that their programs are compatible.
Sullivan said he hopes to train about a million youths in OIC centers in the next five years through a grassroots effort that will involve sending OIC recruiters, clergy and businessmen to street corners or wherever unemployed teen-agers can be found to tell them how they can get training and jobs.
Sullivan said the program will focus on youth between the ages of 16 and 21. The average age of persons now trained in OIC centers is 26.
In an interview yesterday Sullivan recalled driving down 14th Street NW recently and seeing crowds of idle youngsters milling around the streets.
"I've seen that all over the country," said Sullivan. "It's not happening only in Washington. It's happening all over, in all the cities. I've traveled 50,000 miles recently throughout the Southwest, the West, the South and the East and I've seen social devastation. Everywhere you see clusters of young people on street corners.
"This is the first time I remember seeing so many young people just out on the streets since the days before the [1960s] riots. The problem is becoming acute. It is reaching the crisis stage"
Sullivan said the problem of youth unemployment has become a crisis because Americans stopped focusing on the problems of the underprivileged and minorities after the 1960s. He said the public schools failed to meet the needs of children and that is why they left the schools - without any skills - for the streets.
"If we don't do something for these young people now," Sullivan said, "disorder and disruptions will occur. We'll get through this year but in two or three years the dissension will grow and it is going to be bad. The businesses and people who think they can ignore the problems by not driving downtown will be faced with angry teen-agers tearing down the society. Those people don't realize that their success, the society's success depends on what happens to the youth."
Sullivan said he blames the black middle class as much as he blames the whites in corporate board rooms for teen-agers' unemployment.
"After the 60s civil rights movement," said Sullivan, "many of the black people who got a chance to get jobs by raising that big black militant fist forgot about everybody else because their big black fist had some green money in it." CAPTION: Picture, Leon Sullivan: Job training for youth now, or disorder and disruption later. By Fred Sweets - The Washington Post