The D.C. Summer Youth Employment Program, plagued in the past by late or missing paychecks and near-paralyzing administrative confusion, is generally earning high marks this summer from the young workers, their employers and federal monitors.
There remain some glitches in the program, which this year has given $3.35-an-hour summer jobs in the D.C. government or in participating private nonprofit agencies to nearly 20,000 youths between the ages of 14 and 21. But in general, this year's program has been free of the chaos it suffered in 1979 and 1980, Mayor Marion Barry's first two years in office.
"Our early reports from D.C. indicate everything is going great," said William Haltigan, the Philadelphia-based regional director of the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, which monitors the program and has been critical of it in the past.
Haltigan said the D.C. program had a record "of poor planning" and of being unable to locate worksites and place the young people, but had been "organized well and planned early this year." Haltigan said he has not heard of any significant operational problems.
Pat Puritz, director of the D.C. Coalition for Youth and also a past critic of the program, said, "There is no question that the program is much better this year than last year." She attributed the improvement to the fact that this is an election year, as well as to increased emphasis this year on private-sector participation.
The major problem this year has been matching the young people's vocational aspirations and skills with the employers' needs. "Twice we have asked for students with typing skills, and twice we have gotten students who cannot type," said Mary Ann Smith, personnel manager for the National Education Association, which is employing four youths from the program this summer.
But she described the problem as minor, and said she had encountered none of the "administrative headaches" that she said caused NEA to consider dropping out of the program in previous years.
Some students have complained that they have been stuck in meaningless jobs that do not meet the program's goal of providing entry-level job opportunities and experience.
For example, Alfred Davis, a second-year student at Strayer College, a downtown business school, was originally assigned as an administrative assistant at a local trade association. "I really wasn't doing anything," said Davis, 20. "I wasn't where I thought I could best develop my administrative potential."
Davis complained and was reassigned to work at National Public Radio, which had been dissatisfied with its original summer worker. The marriage proved successful: Roberta Maggenti of NPR said Davis is an able assistant, and that "we are thinking of keeping him on after the program ends."
Matthew F. Shannon, acting director of the city's Department of Employment Services, said the task of matching youths with the right jobs has gone more smoothly than might be imagined given the number involved and the limited availability of desirable jobs.
"We've only had 52 requests for transfers out of 20,000 worksites," Shannon said. "We're doing something right."
Diane Prentiss, a counselor and drafting instructor at the Lemuel A. Penn Center in Northeast, had praise for Project Select, a special feature of the jobs program that selects students who have had advanced vocational training and apprentices them to practicing professionals. Twenty-five young people are enrolled in the program, working as carpenters, electricians, draftsmen and printers.
"I've been printing and binding for six years," said 18-year-old Laney Moore, a senior at McKinley High School working this summer at the Penn Center. "I want to make it my life trade and I've been getting valuable experience this summer."
This summer's program is costing $14.9 million and is providing 19,321 jobs. The city contributed $7.1 million to the program and the federal government, through the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA), put up $7.5 million. In addition to those subsidized jobs, private industry employs 700 young people.
Most of the summer youth employes interviewed said the major benefit of the program is the money they earn. Many of them, like Maritza Biddy, a 20-year-old engineering major at Wilson College in Pennsylvania working as a mailroom aide for the National Education Association, perform nonessential "gofer" tasks. Biddy said she has been studying engineering for a year and could not find summer work in her field.
"I stuff, address and meter envelopes for the NEA mailing list," Biddy said, and while the job has nothing to do with her career, "every little bit of money I make helps to pay for tuition." The checks, she says, have been coming on time.