District of Columbia government officials said yesterday they have cut 1,600 more jobs from the city's already scaled back summer jobs program for youth, making even bleaker an already discouraging employment picture this year for Washington's 50,000 teen-aged students.
District officials are promising that the program this year will be better run that in previous problem-plagued summers. But they acknowledged that the program will make barely a dent in city youth unemployment. And with cash-strapped federal and city government agencies here hiring fewer youths and the larger pool of unemployed adults and inflation-pinched businesses reluctant to hire young people, thousands of District youths can expect the search for a job this year to be more futile and frustrating than ever.
More than half the city's summer youth jobs will be funded by federal money and will be restricted to children from low-income families and the city has traditionally used its share of the summer jobs program money to hire middle-income youths. Because of fewer jobs this year, however, the city could be forced to earmark more of its funds for low-income youths.
"I think it's unfair to limit your job-training program to low-income people," said Mayor Marion Barry, who made the summer jobs program a major issue in his 1978 campaign. "Why should you be punished if your parents work. But at the same time, we must make a special effort to [employ] disadvantaged youths."
But city officials still say the overall job picture is dismal. "You will have a very high percentage of young people who will not be able to find a job this summer," said Adolph Slaughter, the press spokesman in the city's Department of Employment Services. "If employers aren't hiring adults, you know they won't be hiring youngsters."
The city is now hiring 18,300 jobs for this summer, down from last year's 22,000 jobs and revised downward from recent estimates of 19,900. In 1979, Barry promised the city would create 30,000 summer youth jobs and claimed that he achieved that goal. This year, young people are registering for the program in record numbers. Although close to 15,000 young people have signed up, only 10,000 job pledges have come from private employers -- less than half the goal.
Employment officials and community leaders blame the weak economy for making it harder to find employers willing to take on young people for the summer, even though they are paid with city and federal funds. Also, with total unemployment in the city at 8.9 percent, the highest in recent months, more adults are competing with young people for the city's availabe jobs.
So while city officials and even some usually critical community leaders are optimistic that the city's program will live up to the promises of better management and fewer snafus, their optimism is tempered by high unemployment.
"It's going to be hard," said G. Loretta Tate, president of the Marshall Heights Civic Association in far Southeast Washington, where unemployment is traditionally high. "A lot of these kids are going to be laying around the house, or out on the streets."
"It's harder out here to find jobs anyway," Tate said. "They [the young people] definitely want jobs; they want experience. Nobody wants to lay around the house all summer. There doesn't seem to be any hope sometimes. It's useless."
Another community group leader in a high-unemployment neighborhood, James Onley, a Ward 7 advisory neighborhood commissioner in Northeast Washington, said, "There'll be a whole lot more looking for jobs than there are jobs available. I don't know what they'll do but take to the streets. City recreation programs are being cut back. Those 16 to 21 [years old], many of them won't be doing anything. We hope that idleness won't increase the crime rate."
Many expect that the tight job market this year could make the job search even more difficult for young persons whose parents are middle or lower-middle income.The city's program is partly funded with $8.6 million in federal funds from the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), for 10,600 jobs all reserved for young people from lower-income homes.
Federal CETA guidelines state that those 10,600 jobs can only go to young persons from homes where, say, a family of four makes $9,540 per year or less. That means CETA jobs would be out of reach for any youth with a household income equivalent to the scale of a GS-3 or above.
The rest of the summer jobs program funding comes from the city, which this year is putting up $4.8 million, and city officials decline to say whether they will give low income youths priority over middle-income months this year.
"It's not fair to those children who are middle class," said Margaret G. Carter, president of the Civic Betterment Civic Association, located in far Southeast near Lincoln Heights, of the possibility that low-income teens could come first."They have to have jobs, too. Some of them are trying to make money to go to college."
Tate said that in her Marshall Heights neighborhood there were several families with two parents earning incomes. "Sometimes, kids feel like why make the effort when you're just going to get turned down, with both parents working and your family in the middle income. You're constantly told you don't qualify."
"If you have both parents working, you're out of it altogether," Onley said, "and these kids in that middle-income range are the ones who would work if they get the jobs."
Frances L. Queen, president of the Kingman Park Civic Association, said "We're going to be in terrible shape this summer. They want the low-income kids in the program first, and they're the ones who don't show up and don't want to be in the program in the first place. The middle-income fellow who wants to work so desperately, we have nothing for."
Dr. Marty Beyer, director of the D.C. Coalition for Youth, said of the city's 1981 summer jobs effort, "The program as planned is not going to reach anywhere near the number of kids who need jobs. If past experience tells us anything, we'll be lucky to have 15,000 jobs this year."
Like others in the community, Beyer said she agrees with city officials that the program's improvements this year should make it run more smoothly. These improvements include a strict May 31 registration deadline, a mandatory orientation period for all young people who participate, stricter on-the-job supervision and tigher controls on the payroll procedure that last year had some youngsters waiting for their paychecks well into the fall, after their jobs had long ended.
Also this year, young people for the first time will not be allowed to move around as freely between worksites when they do not like a particular job. City officials also hope to cut down on the number of young people who do not show up for work. With so many young people unemployed, those who don't take their jobs seriously can be easily and swiftly replaced, Slaughter said.
But despite these improvements, Beyer said, "A number of factors are playing into young people getting a very bad deal this summer. Many businesses are feeling economic pressures . . . plus with unemployement up among adults, young people and adults will be competing like never before, especially with the disastrously timed demise of the adult CETA program. A lot of people are talking about more juvenile deliquency this summer." CAPTION:
Mayor Barry: "It's unfair to limit job-training program to low-income people." By Fred Sweets -- The Washington Post