AS THE UNEMPLOYMENT rate mounts, increased attention will fall on the already large numbers of young people who cannot find jobs. Already in April, the unemployment rate for all teen-agers between ages 16 and 19 was reported to be 16.2 percent, and for black youth 32.6 percent. But within these figures, the National Bureau of Economic Research has just reported, significant differences are to be found.
First, large numbers of young people do not have much trouble getting a job.
For them, working sporadically after school or between trips to the beach is accepted. A remarkable number of young men settle into permanent full-time jobs within weeks of getting married. As this larger group moves in and out of work, some mismatch between job and individual is inevitable; it inflates the unemployment statistics. So in some ways the youth employment problem is less serious than it appears.
Intractable yough unemployment is concentrated within a smaller group -- about a million of the 24 million youths between 16 and 21. Mostly black high school dropouts from poor families, they are jobless for long periods. For this group the problem may well be more serious than it appears. Difficulty in finding work as a teen-ager presages a chronic inability to find work in adult life.
The National Bureau's year-long study suggests that the funds now being spent to provide job training for young people in general world be far better spent on teaching the one million touch cases basic literacy and academic skills. The study found that academic performance was positively related both to number of weeks worked each year and to wages. Vocational training, on the other hand, was not related to employment success -- a surprising finding that calls into question the nearly billion-dollar vocational education program, as well as the emphasis by many jobs programs on vocational training.
Happily, many parts of the yough employment bill agreed to by President Carter and the House Education and Labor Committee focus on areas of intense poverty, stress basic educational skills and offer students a combination of academic subjects and work. But other parts of the bill -- the vocational training program -- may not hold up so well.
It is important to get this yough bill right. The history of public hard-wringing, raised expectations and ineffectual programming in the yough employment area has been shameful. The program must be tailored precisely to the youth who need it and provide for them the services that have been proven to help.