The sudden push to get summer jobs for Washington youth that comes this time of year, every year, is a sham at the expense of black youth, a group that cannot afford to be short-changed again.
According to politicians, the drive to get teenagers summer jobs is an effort to do something for young people who would be idle otherwise. But the truth is that summer jobs aren't for teenagers so much as they are for adults.
Summer is the time of year that city teenagers, mostly black teen-agers, and all of their problems come out for adults to see. In the winter, the problems of unemployment, teen-agers who can't read or add well enough to keep a job and teen-agers who sit at home getting high or watching TV forever are hidden, festering behind school walls and tenement doors.
But come the hot nights of summer, when school is out and it is too hot to watch reruns in stuffy, unairconditioned rooms, then the black children are out, all over everything, everywhere. And then everyone is confronted with what they avoided or gave only passing thought to in the winter: the unemployed, the uneducated, the street-tough. They are around every corner, roaming through city streets on bikes like marauding gangs and loitering in front of stores. White and black adults who read of the problems of back city teen-agers in Urban League reports come face-to-face with the reality of the problem when they see black teen-agers walking toward them on an otherwise empty street.
Then the adults are scared. Will the teen-agers attack me? they wonder. The F Street storekeeper is scared, wondering if the black kid coming in the door - probably unemployed and penniless - will try to shoplift. The policeman arresting a black teen-ager for the inevitable crime born of poverty hopes other black youth won't gather around and possibly spark a riot that will mean a loss of millions to the middle class, just now investing money in the houses and businesses in the city after the last riot.
These adult fears turn into unspoken demands to "do something with these people." Get them off the streets somehow. That translates in public announcement to do something for the kids. But doing something for the city's black teen-agers generally would take more than an eight-week summer job. Still the adults go for the quick-fix of summer jobs.
But all the appeals for summer jobs for kids from adults ignore the fact that governments and businessmen are not in a position to help teen-agers. Businessmen are in the business of running business and governments are in the business of governing. It is unfair to put the burden of "doing something with these people" on them. But through constant badgering, appeals to social responsibility and the politically popular idea of avoiding riots and increases in street crimes, the government and businessmen get the job of getting teen-agers off the streets.
But in most cases the governments and businessmen cannot hide their half-hearted intentions. They do not hire the black teen-agers to work and learn skills that will be valuable to them later in life so much as they hire them, for the adults' sake, to hide them in menial stack-the-boxes type jobs that offer no training. The federal and city governments do the same thing. They have money budgeted to give out summer jobs but make no provisions for extra staff to supervise or train the teen-agers. So the government agencies get overloaded with summer hires, and the teen-agers are storehoused in do-nothing jobs. But the kids are off the streets, hidden from sight, and given enough money to go the Capital Centre for concerts, to stop mugging people and end the threat of frustration turning into a riot.
The summer jobs program becomes a handout, crumbs from the table to keep the beggars pacified and keep their problems hidden like they are in the fall, winter and spring. But this tape-spit-and-chicken-wire approach to the problems of black youth in the city is barely keeping things together. Paying kids for doing nothing but getting off the streets is a cosmetic treatment for a social problem that is a deep scar on society's face. And altrustic commitments to summer jobs are just last-gasp manuevers to avert social disasters.
The energy and money used to hide black teenagers during the summer would be better used to help the school system and provide opportunities for black youth throughout the year.
Summertime apologies for what has been done to black youth in the fall, winter and spring aren't fooling anyone or helping anyone.