Twelve years after Marion Barry waged his first campaign for mayor, promising to double the 15,000 summer jobs the city had been offering its youths, the program is better organized and administered than in the bumbling initial years after his election. But it is also reaching far fewer youngsters than before and is winning less private support than similar programs in other cities.
Whereas a decade ago the city struggled to find enough jobs for the youths who signed up, today the D.C. Summer Youth Employment Program has 25 percent more jobs than it has teenagers.
Daryl Hardy, who oversees the progam, said his greatest frustration is his inability to persuade some unemployed youths to sign up. He attributes the declining numbers to the drop in the number of youths and to the area's competitive job market.
The pay is $3.80 an hour and the work is primarily for government and nonprofit agencies. Some of the younger teenagers also earn money just for taking classes, in everything from Latin to parenting. The city this year paid more than $1 million to 26 nonprofit agencies to help create a wide variety of work and study programs.
Richard Roughton, who oversees the hiring of 200 city youths every summer at American University, said even Barry's harshest critics as he stands trial on drug and perjury charges say the program is one of his most noteworthy achievements. "People tend to forget, once the brass gets tarnished, that it ever did shine," he said.
But the city's economy has improved dramatically since the program began, and its population of young people has declined. Some experts say it is therefore time for the District to reevaluate the program and follow the lead of cities such as Boston and Philadelphia, where officials have persuaded the private sector to find summer jobs for teenagers. Jobs with private companies offer more realistic views of work, they say, and are more likely to lead to permanent and part-time jobs.
Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution, said Boston's approach requires some heavy lobbying because business traditionally distrusts employees sent by government. "Business people don't have a lot of confidence in government to bring a good kid around to them," he said.
Hardy said the city's $12 million program is reaching its target: youths between 14 and 17 who live in the city's poorest wards. About 96 percent are black.
Its roots extend back to 1965, when the first summer youth program was established here as part of President Johnson's anti-poverty program. Then, only disadvantaged youths got jobs, because they were the only ones entitled to federal help.
Concerned that the income rules placed a stigma on the jobs and still barred many needy youth, Barry in 1979 began using city funds to hire youths above the poverty line. In 1985 he promised to guarantee a summer job to every applicant.
The program was initially plagued with management and payroll problems, and some complaints continue. On Monday, several employers told of expecting dozens of youngsters and getting none; others complained of getting the wrong payroll records.
And in the midst of the Barry trial, questions about summer job contract irregularities were raised when a former business partner of Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore's said Moore received a $52,488 no-bid contract in 1986.
Still, federal officials who evaluate the program have said that since 1987 it has operated with relatively few glitches.
Today the District contributes significantly more money to summer jobs than any other city in the mid-Atlantic region, say U.S. Labor Department officials. Other cities, they say, focus more on getting private jobs for their youth.
Hardy defends the city's approach, saying it offers youngstesr a gradual introduction to work. He said many 14- and 15-year-olds wouldn't be able to find employment if it weren't for the program because they lack skills and maturity.
"They need to learn about the world of work," he said.
But others say too often it is a make-work program that teaches little about what real work is about.
"The problem with the District's summer program is that most of the jobs are in government and nonprofit agencies and aren't 'real jobs,' " said Douglas Besharov, who researches educational programs for the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
"I've been in a number of District offices and I see the summer workers, and it always seem to me that they are at a loss of what to do," he said. "It's a shame we aren't able to fashion jobs that broaden the work experience of these young people."
Besharov and others said no research has proved that government-subsidized summer jobs effectively change attitudes about work.
"People's work and study habits run too deeply to be changed by a six-week minimum-wage job," Besharov said. The city would serve the youths better by helping them get jobs in the private sector and providing transportation, he said.
In Boston, a private-public partnership run by Mayor Raymond Flynn's office has found 2,300 jobs in private firms this summer, and despite a weakened economy, officials say they expect to find 1,200 more.
In contrast, the District has helped find 307 private-sector jobs this summer, and Hardy said he hopes to find 700 more.
He said the city has tried to get more private jobs in the program, but the lack of entry-level factory jobs here makes that difficult.
"Whether teenagers take goverment jobs or private jobs, the most important thing is that they feel they are doing something useful," said Paul Osterman, an MIT economist who has studied summer youth programs. "When that happens, it can make a difference."
NUMBER OF YOUTHS SIGNED UP
Ward 2............. 1,110
*FIGURES DO NOT INCLUDE ABOUT 800 YOUTHS WORKING IN SEVERAL FEDERAL PROGRAMS FOR THE NEEDY.
SOURCE: D.C. DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES
WHAT PARTICIPANTS WILL MAKE
20 hours a week maximum
30 hours a week maximum
40 hours a week maximum
WHO PAYS FOR THE PROGRAM
Federal Government..... $6.54 million
D.C. Government........ $5.49 million
TOTAL................. $12.03 million