It is NOW more than six weeks since city teenagers worked their last day in the Mayor's Summer Jobs for Youth Program. But the D.C. Labor Department admits that about 1,800 of them have yet to be paid.

Darlene Stewart, 20, who was employed by the D.C. Youth Congress, is still waiting for $250 the city owes her. "They keep sending me from this office to that office," says Miss Stewart. "They'll say it's not their problem and tell you to go see someone else who'll say the same thing. It's always come back next week and we'll tell you something and next week when you come back its the same thing again: come back. How would you like if you worked and then they wouldn't pay you?"

A spokesman for the D.C. Department of Labor says a team of 18 people has been put on the case and it should be resolved in three weeks. He says the delay involves computer payroll problems, workers who were hired by summer job site directors without first meeting city sumer job qualifications, and incomplete or inaccurate time and attendance cards from the work site.

But several job site supervisors reject these explanations. Questions about time and attendance could have been settled with a phone call, they say. The job supervisors, who often get calls from youngsters complaining about not being paid, believe the labor department's estimate of 1,800 youngsters with pay problems may be low.

Whatever the particulars, the broad truth is that young people, some on their first job, have not been paid for their work. Their lesson they have taken away from the summer jobs program cannot be anything but negative. For the city to have let that negative image burn into the minds of young people for six weeks is really mean and reckless. If problems with payroll computers or timecards are resonsible for the delay, the youngsters should be given accurate explanations, not the old "the check is in the mail" line. The 18 people assigned to resolve the problem should finish the job fast.