When congressmen and U.S. Labor Department officials talk about a good summer jobs program, they talk about the program in Baltimore. When they talk about a bad program, they look out of their Capitol Hill offices and point down -- at Washington. When it comes to summer jobs programs, Baltimore and Washington, about 40 miles apart, might as well be on different planets.
The Washington program flounders from year to year with the same problems. It has trouble signing up young people for jobs despite high unemployment; it has trouble finding places for the young people to work; and there is always trouble getting the youngesters to work sites and getting them paychecks. Typically, after all the trouble, Washington youth are found spending their time at work playing ball or they show up only once a week, on Fridays, to get their checks.
In Baltimore, city officials take a visitor on a tour to show the houses that have been renovated, the parks that have been cleaned, the park benches that have been built by summer jobs workers. City government agencies in Baltimore compete to get more young people during the summer, while in Washington city-agency heads groan and protest about accepting young people for the summer.
Why does Baltimore's program work?
First, you should know, there is no magic in Baltimore's success. The city has about the same population as Washington, it has the same 50 percent black youth unemployment, it is also a mostly black city and its private employers give practically no jobs to the summer program.
But Baltimore's program is different from Washington's in one all-important respect: it is just one part of a well-managed program to give jobs to poor young people all year -- 9,000 throughout the year and an additional 9,000 in the summer. Washington's program of the same size is a summer-only effort that has trouble getting started every spring.
Another reason for Baltimore's success is that Mayor William Donald Schaefer sees the program as a free tool, put in his hand by the federal government, to help revitalize the city. And he does not want to waste it by paying young people to do nothing. Summer jobs are not considered an investment in riot prevention in Baltimore.
"Summer jobs, CETA (the federal government's Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) aren't something off to the side here," says Marion Pines, the energetic woman who manages Baltimore's youth-jobs program. "The jobs are part of the city's renaissance. We're using them to build up the city."
Pines reports on the jobs program, summer and winter, directly to Schaefer. She has no counterpart in the District, where the summer program and year-round jobs programs are headed by different people. And those people are hidden in the middle of the District's Labor Department bureaucracy.
"We have two major goals in the summer jobs program," says Stephen D. Kaiser, and assistant to Pines. "One, we want as many of the jobs as possible to be of tangible help to someone in the neighborhood or to make some lasting improvement to the city. That way, when the kids drive down the street in November they can say 'that's what we did in the summer jobs program.' Two, we want to make demands on the kids for good work habits and a good attitude, demands as tough as any private employer. That way, they will know what it is to hold a job."
City officials in Baltimore are able to get young people to work hard to improve the city because their jobs program demands respect. Young people are suspended without pay and sometimes fired. So are supervisors who don't do their jobs.
"They're serious around here, they don't be playing," said Devor Redfern, who works as a butcher in a supermarket and attends special classes during the summer under the jobs program. "They be firing people out of here all the time. I watch myself . . . my mother told me I'd better work or pack my clothes. I want this job."
To get young people to do their best work, city officials also try to place as many youth as possible in jobs in their own neighborhoods. The idea, according to Marion Pines, is to get young people into situations where they can take pride in what they are doing and show it off to their parents and friends. In the District, there is an effort to assign young people from Southeast to Northwest while people from Northwest are assigned to Southeast. Requests to be placed at a job site near home are turned down by District officials for fear that employers and teen-agers would know each other and play around instead of working.
Even the registration for summer jobs is different in Baltimore: city agencies that regularly deal with poor young people -- the housing department, the recreation department and the schools -- are asked to submit the names of young people who would qualify for the program. The young people fill out a form and have their parents sign it to verify that their family income is below poverty level. In the District, city agencies are not asked to make referrals. Parents must accompany young people to registration centers, often taking time off work, to verify family income.
And unlike the District, where planning for jobs that start in July is taking place in April and May, Baltimore begins its planning for the same number of summer jobs the September before -- at the end of the previous summer's program. As a result, when the District is suffering its annual May-June headache of signing young people up and assigning them to work sites Baltimore has been finished with all registration for four months -- since February.
"The difference between Baltimore and the District is good management," says Jodie Allen, deputy assistant secretary for policy evaluation and research in the U.S. Labor Department. "The summer program is an outgrowth of a city's other programs and the District's programs are usually badly managed. If you look around the District, you may find some well-managed job sites, but they are rare in Baltimore, a well-managed job site is typical. That tells you the city government is doing a good job managing the summer program from the top on down."
Good management means that supervisors at each work site in the Baltimore program are specially trained by the city, unlike in the District. The head of a neighborhood program that is the site of a summer jobs program, is not usually the head of the summer program, either, as is the case in the District. And in Baltimore, employees of city government agencies compete to qualify as supervisors of summer employees. The regular city workers who are chosen get a small increase in pay.
One other difference is that Baltimore makes no-effort to get private businesses to pledge jobs for the summer program. In Washington, there is a yearly fight between the city government and the Greater Washington Board of Trade over how many jobs the board of trade has really located for young people.
"It was an annual farce here with the NAB (National Alliance of Businessmen) pledging private sector jobs that they never came through with," says Pines. "We didn't need that aggravation."
Even so, Baltimore has been chosen for the past two years to receive a $27,000 grant from Xerox to pay for summer jobs for 25 kids. Last year, the youths paid by Xerox built a park for the city. This year, they are laying out vegetable gardens in abandoned city lots.
The essence of Baltimore's approach to the summer jobs program is written on cardboard inserts that will be put in the young people's pay envelopes. One of the inserts reads: "Baltimore is proud of you. Not only for what you've done so far, but how you've done it. Especially for showing up on time when you felt like sleeping late . . . because when you make the city a better place to be, you're making your home a better place to live."