Royal Johnson, 19, stood on the street with his back to Cardozo High and its sweeping view across some of the city's worst slums to the suntouched white of the Capitol dome.

That was an alien world to him and he neither knew nor cared that, over there, Congress was debating whether to pop for another $2 billion to "motivate" and train youths like him under President Carter's only "major new domestic legislative initiative" for 1980.

Johnson dropped out of Cardozo two years ago and, most days, he does not show up for the work he got through a government jobs program -- unloading boxes and carrying out trash for a Northeast auto parts dealer.

"That job ain't nothin'. Just nothin'. That job ain't worth s---," he said, throwing his shoulders restlessly. "I do that job, days I feel like it. I do better on the street, most days."

He reads at about fourth-grade level, according to a community worker, who knows him. His mother, on welfare, has another child at home.

In hartford, Conn., Calvin Philips, 21, slumped into a chair during a break from his job as a dishwasher and told what he thinks about the kids like Johnson who do not know a break when they see one.

"Their mother ain't brought 'em up right. They lazy," he said, eyes smiling faintly. Phillips had been branded a troublemaker before he went through a federally funded work program, and, incidentally, took up with a community basketball team.

Now he's working and going to night classes to finish high school. He hopes to go into a construction trade. Community workers say he might actually have a shot at it.

Such are the painful increments by which success often is measured on the front lines of this tense and dispiriting battle.

Government officials, job specialists, teachers, employers and just plain taxpayers all say that want poor black and other minority youths to have jobs, and they've poured billions into programs for them. The youths, for their part, almost all say they want to work.

Yet between a third and half of them have grown up to be an ugly blot on the country's record of social progress.

Overall unemployment among teenagers is about 14 percent. But among Black and other minority youths, it average about 35 percent by government estimate and is at 50 percent or higher in some impoverished inner cities.

All through the '70s, while the federal money flowed and a growing portion of white youngsters got jobs, the line on the graph for young blacks plummeted. The battle intensified.

Now comes the Carter contingent to take another stab at it, throwing $2 billion more into a bureaucratic stew where the success rate, to the extent it can be measured meaningfully at all, remains low.

Carter officials and other supporters of the new plan argue that the alternative is to write off a whole group of youths and just "throw up our hands." Skeptics mutter that it's just another sop to sonscience, or to a powerful black constituency, and that this money will follow other billions down a rathole.

Here are more dispatches from the front:

Herbert Jones, assistant personnel manager for People's Drug Stores: "We call the various community organizations and say we've got 10 or 12 vacancies. We get maybe five to seven applicants. . . . They say yes, okay. vThen you schedule them for training. But half of them don't show up. I grew up in this area and I don't understand it."

Mattie Taylor D.C. Department of Labor: "Each year, this building is torn apart by kids who come here looking for jobs, but are told there are none."

James McClure, guidance director, T. C. Williams High School, Alexandria, Va.: "We're talking about the kind of a kid that NOBODY wants to fool with . . . It's a full-time job [working with them]. I get discouraged with federal program. . . .The people in these programs are very idealistic. They make a lot of promises. But you better be able to keep those promises or you've lost the kid. . . . It's not money these programs need more of."

William Stewart, welding shop teacher, Phelps Vocational Training School, 24th and Benning Rd. NE: "Friday a dozen [students] jimmied the door to my classroom; they were shooting craps and smoking herbs. . . . One time they set [the role sheets] on fire on top of my desk." Because of administrative squabbles, lack of supplies, unheated classrooms and students' "just not showing up, 13 out of 17 of them just got their second F, which means they won't pass for the year. . . . It's complete chaos here most of the time."

Vernon Johnson, an administrator of Maverick, a federally subsidized work program in Hartford, Conn.: "These youths from low-income housing do not see the link between what they do today and what they'll be able to do tomorrow. They don't think that long-range. They are living for today."

While the absolute number of unemployed black youngsters is relatively small -- about 380,000 out of a work force of 103 million -- the impact in terms of human pain, crime, welfare, public guilt and other costs to society have been felt disproportionately on the political Geiger counter.

In January, White House domestic affairs adviser Stuart Eisenstat unveiled the program with the warning that without it, the problem "may get worse in the 1980s."

While the number of all young people will go down with the decline in the birth rate, he said, the percentage of all youngsters who are black and Hispanic youngsters will increase significantly.

When Carter took office, the Republicans were spending $2.5 billion a year on youth programs. Since then Carter has raised the level to $4 billion and is asking Congress to raise that to $6 billion over the next two years.

The smallest, most heavily supervised and most costly of the existing programs, such as Job Corps, have shown some successes. But for the programs that most disadvantaged youths wind up in, the results have been doubtful at best.

A parade of manpower experts has urged the government to lower public expectations for these programs and to focus on improving existing ones rather than adding new ones.

There is an argument without a resolution going on. Some people say there are jobs available but that some youngsters refuse to do them, some say the jobs exist but the kids have not been equipped with the skills to do them and some say there simply aren't enough jobs.

Why haven't the alphabet soup of programs -- Ceta, yacc, yetp, yccip, YIEPP, YEDPA -- had more impact on the neediest poor youths they are aimed at? Books have been written. Theories and observations about that abound:

Many employers are racists.

Teen-age boys, more than girls, are restless and rambunctious and troubled in the best of circumstances, and bound to be so when faced with rotten, dead-end jobs, on top of poverty and illiteracy. Some will grow out of this phase and become employable.

Today's black teen-agers, having had their consciousness raised, expect more and seem angrier, more hostile, and more frightening to some employers than their parents' generation.

Many employers discriminate on the basis of class, not race. Black Harvard graduates have no trouble getting jobs. In a conformist teen-age culture, all inner-city youths dress alike and a middle-class employer "can't tell whether he's interviewing a mugger or a good kid."

An underground labor economy -- running numbers, selling dope, painting houses, repairing cars -- employs many youngsters who appear in the unemployment statistics.

Bureaucratic screw-ups and red tape discourage employers, youths and just about everybody involved with the programs.

The schools, especially poor urban ones absorbing the brunt of one of the greatest social upheavals in our history, integration, have failed to teach youngsters to read, write, add or subtract.

The youths come from a welfare background in which work habits are alien and parent(s) are too tired or ignorant to give them the instruction they need.

While youths have an informal network of relatives, friends, etc. that leads them naturally into jobs. Poor black youths do not.

And so on.

Nobody is making any dramatic promises about what the new Carter proposal will accomplish. But the alternative, its supporters say, is to do nothing more than now. Already, the tightening budget and pressure from inflation threaten to choke the plan off altogether.

Bill Spring, a White House domestic aide who is expert in the subject, acknowledges the limits of the program, especially in an economy where adults are facing layoffs.

"It is a zero sum game," he said. "We can't provide jobs through training.

But we can try to equalize the weight of unemployment on various groups."

Among the improvements the program will try to make is to put great emphasis on how well young people perform in the programs, where in the past that was avoided for fear of scaring off the less able. "You've got to have a touch of the Marines," Spring said.

A key difference in the administration's new plan is that it would target about half the money to schools in 3,000 of the country's poorest school districts for remedial teaching at the junior and senior high level, rather than directing it all to work programs. The money would be channeled through the new Department of Education as well as the Labor Department.

When he announced the proposal, Eisenstat said, "The literacy gap which we identified was absolutely staggering."

In a society where jobs increasingly demand white-collar skills such as reading and arithmetic, he pointed out, "Forty-two percent of recently surveyed black 17-year-olds are functionally illiterate."

The proposal would not merely offer busy-work to keep youths off the streets, he said, but also would try to provide basic skills to those who might otherwise face a lifetime of joblessness.

The plan would call on schools and jobs programs to work together to link learning with the world of work.

On Capitol Hill, powerful competing interest groups in education and labor, jealous of their appropriations, have geared up to protect their turf and, as one education lobbyist said, "there'll be some name-calling" over whose fault the youth problem is.

But supporters and opponents alike agree on the need to help the severely distressed inner-city schools. Until now, virtually all federal funds have gone to the lower elementary grades, not to junior and senior high levels where turned-off youngsters drop out.

Rep. Gus Hawkins (D-Calif.) criticized the proposal for pouring money into the schools for the purpose of "doing what they've already been given money to do at a lower level." That is, teach reading, writing and arithmetic.

But his main objection, he said, is that the proposal won't be effective until 1982. "We should be doing something right now."

Rep. Parren Mitchell (D-Md.), leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, called the plan too little, too slow. "The problem is so enormous, I'd make it No. 1 priority. . . . This doesn't begin to address the real need."

Royal Johnson, meanwhile, continues to learn the lessons of the street.