District of Columbia youths, who already face depression-level unemployment, are likely to encounter even worse job prospects in the 1980s -- thus intensifying one of the most critical social and economic problems plaguing the city.

That is the finding of a report on the area's economy released yesterday by the Greater Washington Rresearch Center. The report says that, while Washington's employment level should remain stable with high average income levels, job opportunities for the unskilled -- particularly those just out of high school -- are dwindling.

The area has a large number of federal jobs and is growing as a world center, attracting more hotels and international organizations, the report said.

But that economic growth is taking place in a two-tier economic system, with professionals and administrators on top and unskilled, low-wage earners on the bottom -- similar to that of the capitals of many underdeveloped countries.

The number of jobs at the top is expanding, while the number on the bottom is shrinking, and there is virtually no way for those at the bottom to crack the top layer, the report says.

"People in Washington are mostly concerned with the top part of the economic tier. They see the place becoming alive with many more apartment buildings and office buildings. They see more restaurants opening, more speciality stores, like Neiman-Marcus. They see Washington becoming a center for the arts," said Prof. Edwin T. Haefele of the University of Pennsylvania, who prepared the report.

"This does not necessarily help people in the lower economic tier," who number between 35,000 and 45,000 Haefele said.

The Washington area in the past few years has attracted more corporate offices, law, accounting, research and consulting firms, international agencies and large associations. But high rents and rising taxes have driven away printing and publishing companies, clothes cleaning factories, auto dealerships and auto repair shops, Haefele said.

These businesses used to provide hundreds of jobs for the unskilled.

The report recommends that Washington-area officials try to attract more light industrial and commercial development to the region -- particularly along the Baltimore-Washington corridor -- and improve public transportation, so unemployed city residents can get to jobs in manufacturing, distribution and technical firms in the outlying suburbs.

The report recommends more career-training programs in the schools and more cooperative job programs between the schools and local companies as ways to address the critical problem of youth unemployment.

While the overall rate of unemployment in the city is 6.4 percent, it is about 39 percent for those between the ages of 16 and 21, according to the D.C. Department of Labor. For black males 16 to 19 years old in the city, the rate of unemployment is nearly 50 percent, the report says.

If overall unemployment rates were as high as the acknowledged jobless rate for youths -- many suspect a real youth unemployment rate much higher -- the economy would be considered in a depression.

Many Washington employers say the youth unemployment problem is intensified by the fact that many youths who seek employment do not know how to fill out an application, write resumes or conduct themselves during an interview.Many show poor reading, speaking and spelling skills.

"Many youths have not learned the expected behavior modes of punctuality, willing attitude, dress, or the ability to communicate in a work situation," according to a 1978 report on youth unemployment, sponsored by the Washington Board of Trade and the National Alliance of Business.

"The statement that some kids don't read or fill out job applications is probably true," said D.C. school superintendent Vincent E. Reed. "But there are hundreds of kids who can read and can perform who are without jobs.

Reed said there are six career development (vocational education) centers in the city and one high school devoted to training students in the fine arts. At the centers, students are trained in such careers as construction, printing and publishing, plumbing, auto mechanics and personal services.

Joseph Cannon, career counseling supervisor, said there are only nine career counselors to advise students on how to go about preparing themselves and applying for jobs to serve the city's 12 senior high schools and 31 junior high schools.

But Terrence Hill, 17, a former D.C. public school student and member of the Youth Congress of the District of Columbia, said he and other students he knows received little career preparation from the public schools.

Hill said he does not blame the school system totally for the unemployment problems of youth. "The big problem with youth in D.C. is that they have very little confidence in themselves," he said.

Kent Cushenberry, an IBM executive who led the business community's youth jobs program last year, said school, labor and private industry officials are attempting to improve the situation by sending business people into the schools to discuss career development.

Haefele's report recommends that local school systems enter into "company-school adoption" programs whereby local companies provide students with training for jobs they will hold later with those companies.

The report also suggests that the federal government provide more entry-level jobs for unskilled persons.