MAYOR BARRY'S Summer Youth Employment Program continues to improve with age. In years past, young people were sometimes shipped to the wrong work places, and those who did arrive at the right jobs often didn't get their paychecks. Gradually, those problems have been reduced. This summer the city had 25,000 jobs lined up and waiting for teen-agers to take possession. That proved to be 1,000 more jobs than were needed. Some of the youths -- aged 14 to 21 -- also received more than the minimum wage for their efforts.

This doesn't mean that every job provided valuable training (some youths were again assigned the none-too-character-building task of counting cars at certain intersections). But many seemed to offer a glimpse of career choices that may spur students to work harder in school. Some teen-agers, for example, held jobs with Howard University's architecture program and were able to shadow instructors as they worked. Some with creative interests were sent to Arts D.C., an organization that introduces young people to the performing arts with drama and dance exhibitions.

Others with an interest in computer programming worked at the George Washington University Hospital, learning how to use computers to keep medical records. The city's Department of Employment Services used teen-agers to write brief press releases and public-service announcements. Another group of children, aged 14 and 15, attended classes at Howard University to learn about job interviews, how to present themselves and how to dress when seeking a job.

Most of the jobs are strictly for the summer, but slightly more than 1,000 teen-agers will be keeping their jobs through the fall. A summer job program provides a valuable service when it keeps idle young people off the streets and provides them with a routine to follow and some honest money in their pockets. When that program sparks an interest in a possible career, it provides even more of a service.