THE HOUSE gave strong support to President Carter's youth employment, education and training bill last week, a 337-51 vote to approve. Now Senate action is necessary. If House treatment is a fair indicator of what will happen in the Senate, there will be bipartisan support and opposition. Criticism will come along two main lines. Opponents of the bill will contend that it does not carry enough money to really tackle the problem of youth unemployment. And other opponents will contend that too much of the money that is in the bill will go toward enlarging the bureaucracy connected with vocational programs for unemployed youth -- programs that do not work.
Neither of the objectives is overwhelming. If there is not enough money in the bill, it can be increased later. The growing bureaucracy of youth vocational training programs is a cause for concern. It could impede the legislation's larger purpose -- namely, reaching those young people -- mostly blacks and Hispanics in the inner cities and poor whites in rural counties -- who do not have the basic academic skills needed for even the simplest jobs. Over a quarter of the bill's funds are earmarked for expansion of existing vocational education programs that do not have these youths as their prime target.
If improvements are to be made in the president's bill, they should involve redirecting money now in some of these vocational programs. Funds could be added, for instance, to vocational programs in poor urban areas or poor rural localities where poverty and bad schools work together to reinforce chronic joblessness among youth. Some money from the vocational programs could also be added to the educational side. Few people can hope to get a job these days without a high school diploma. But problems with reading and writing are now epidemic in high schools, and the dropout rate is constantly increasing. To reduce youth unemployment, the problem of high school dropouts must be dealt with at an early stage.
Still, despite its flaws, and improved or not, the president's bill is good enough to deserve to be enacted. The Senate should act soon -- in its favor. e