Youth workers in Prince George's and Montgomery counties are seeking nearly 5,700 summer jobs for students, in an effort to at least equal their 1979 level of vacation jobs, but they say current economic conditions may make it difficult to reach the goal.

"The economic has definitely affected us, in that employers are taking a wait-and-see position," said Nancy Netherton. "We're getting a lot of people saying, 'I'm going out of business next week,' or 'I just had to lay off 40 to 50 of my own people.'"

Netherton is the director of the area-wide Summer Jobs for Youth Campaign, sponsored by the Greater Washington Board of Trade in conjunction with the National Alliance of Business and area Chambers of Commerce.

Netherton and her staff, who are on loan to the job program from area businesses, have called more than 40,000 employers in the past few weeks, seeking job pledges.

To date, about 1,400 jobs have been pledged in Montgomery County and 1,700 in Prince George's. Netherton's staff hopes to equal last year's final tally of pledges -- 2,500 and 2,600, respectively, for the two counties.

Most of the jobs call for unskilled labor, ranging from maintenance work in fast-food outlets to groundskeeping, painting and clerical duties. The preferred age of applicants may vary according to the program and the services needed.

The Board of Trade effort, coordinated with county-run placement services, is one of a handful of summer jobs programs that organizers optimistically predict will result in 3,500 jobs in Prince George's and 2,175 in Montgomery for high school and college students.

The bulk of the vacation-time jobs will come from publicly sponsored programs, such as those under the federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), the Employment Security Administration and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Montgomery also has a special program for handicapped youths and offers jobs through its recreation department.

In general, both counties and the Board of Trade ask that the youths be paid the minimum wage of $3.10 an hour, but salary is negotiable between employer and employe.

Dick Crane, who coordinates job training seminars for Montgomery County, said Montgomery hopes to place 800 to 1,000 youths in jobs this summer through the Board of Trade program, but acknowledges the goal may be unattainable.

Sherry Smith, a youth employment services planner for Prince George's, said that county hopes to have 300 to 400 youths placed in private sector jobs through the Board of Trade.

Alan Kutz, chief of the division of labor service in Montgomery's Department of Family Resources, said the county expects to put 550 youths in CETA jobs with its $610,000 grant this year.

Doris Johnson, program manager of the Prince George's Summer Youth Employment Program, said the county has not yet been told the size of its CETA grant. The county received $1.2 million last year and expects a comparable amount this year, which should result in 1,800 jobs, she said.

The other major government-sponsored job program for youths from poor families falls under the aegis of the Employment Security Administration. Using CETA funds, the administration places youths in unskilled jobs in local offices of federal agencies.

Jim Parkins, who heads the ESA program in Montgomery County, said he hopes 300 to 400 jobs will be available. John Plummer, the coordinator for Prince George's, hopes to find 600 jobs for youngsters in his county.

For help in finding jobs in Prince George's County, call the youth employment centers at 14601 Main St., Upper Marlboro, telephone 952-3807; and at Hampton Mall, Langley Park Center, Suite 12, 7676 New Hampshire Ave., Capitol Heights, telephone 336-7733.

In Montgomery County, call these centers:

GUIDE, Gaithersburg Youth Service Center, 205 Summit Ave., Gaithersburg, telephone 869-0094.

Rockville Youth Service Center, 107 Fleet St., Rockville, telephone 340-9666.

Bethesda Youth Service Center, 4700 Norwood Drive, Chevy Chase, telephone 652-2820.

Middle Earth Youth Service Center, 2122 University Blvd. West, Wheaton, telephone 933-2818.

Sunshine Youth Service Center, 1102 Forest Glen Rd., Silver Spring, telephone 593-1160.

GUIDE, Olney Youth Service Center, 18114 Hillcrest Ave., Olney, telephone 774-9199.