For the first time since the Nixon administration began dismantling some of the federal government's civil rights enforcement machinery, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is cautiously optimistic about the direction of civil rights enforcement efforts.

In a report issued yesterday, the commission said civil rights enforcement looked a little more encouraging in 1977, but still fell short of legal and constitutional promises.

The report, entitled "The State of Civil Rights, 1977" cited a number of encouraging developments, then qualified nearly every one with a long list of problems that either did not improve or got worse.

"The nation's expectations have been raised," said commission chairman Arthur S. Flemming. "The President's goals are clear."

Flemming cited several of President Carter's statements supporting civil right enforcement, including a July 25 memorandum that said, " . . . The government of all the people should not support programs which discriminate on the grounds of race, color or national origin. There are no exceptions to this rule . . ."

In a letter to Carter and to the leaders of both houses of Congress, the five-member commission said it was "particularly encouraged" by the administration's beginning efforts to improve civil rights enforcement.

"If carried to fruition, such efforts could lead to meaningful civil rights progress in coming years," the letter said.

The commission refused to include in its report a conclusion reached by its staff that there was "little apparent change in the state of civil rights . . ."

But it said it remains " . . . deeply concerned . . . by the continuing high unemployment and poverty rates among minority groups and women, and the inadequacy of programs to deal with the problems of low-income urban residents."

Its 129-page report catalogued the year's pluses and minuses on the civil rights front into seven categories, including:

EMPLOYMENT - The picture for minorities and women was "generally discouraging," it said. Despite a decline in overall joblessness, black unemployment reached the highest levels since World War II.

Affirmative-action efforts for minorities and women were "to some extent offset" by a Supreme Court decision that seniority systems may not be unlawful just because they perpetuate discrimination, the report said.

The commission pointed out that minorities and women continue to earn much less than white men, that black teen-age unemployment reached 41.1 percent, almost two percentage points above the 1976 figure, and that blacks and Hispanics are almost three times more likely to live below the poverty level than are whites.

EDUCATION - The "national movement toward greater equality of educational opportunity proceeded in an encouraging manner," the commission said, even though no new major school desegregation efforts began in 1977.

Nineteen states increased their support of desegregation efforts, the report said, and it noted "steady progress in returning to normal condiitons" in large desegregating districts such as Boston and the Louisville area.

But it also said desegregation remains "a distant goal in numerous localities."

In integrated schools, a disproportionate number of minority students "continue to be suspended and to receive corporal punishment" the commission said.

Overall, it said, actions by the administration and some local governments promised more equal educational opportunity, while the actions of Congress and the Bakke case threatened to slow down those efforts. In that case, Allan Bakke, a white, was denied admission to a California medical school whil e less-qualified blacks were accepted under a minority admissions program. Bakke appealed to the Supreme Court.

A Department of Health, Education and Welfare decision to collect compliance statistics every two years instead of every year " . . . will impede compliance activities . . . " the commission said.

HOUSING - "Disproportionately large numbers of minorities remain concentrated in residential areas with the worst living conditions in America," the report said. "Federally subsidized housing programs and fair housing enforcement activity in 1977 both fell far short of meeting the national need . . .

"Discrimination remains the prime factor in containing minorities in neighborhoods with decaying housing, minimal public services and serious social problems."

It cited one expert's testimony that "no region of the country yet appears to be free of discrimination in the housing market . . ."

The report noted "positive action . . . by federal regulatory agencies against discriminatory lending practices."

WOMEN'S RIGHTS - The commission said "two of the most critical women's rights issues," the Equal Rights Amendment and the right to an abortion, were under "sharp" attack.

ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE - The commission received more complaints in 1977 than in the year before about police misconduct, which it said "remains a widespread phenomenon that has, in some cities, become so pervasive as to appear to be officially sanctioned."

Most complaints charge excessive force and police brutality, but do not [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]

POLITICAL PARTICIPATION - Minorities and women continued to get more involved in the political process, and opportunities to do that were enhanced by Carter's appointments and Supreme Court decisions on voting rights, the report said.

It noted, however, that both groups "continue to be underrepresented in elected positions at all levels of government."