The District of Columbia's summer jobs program for youths, attacked last year as badly mismanaged, is in trouble before it starts this year because of a shortage of jobs and snafus in registering potential workers.
City officials have attempted to solve some of last summer's worst problems, which left numerous youths without paychecks and little to do on their jobs.
But new federal registration requirments have kept some youths from completing their job applications, while governmental budget constraints and the sluggish economy have forced a reduction in the number of available jobs from 30,000 to about 20,000.
With that backdrop, city youth workers are already predicing that this will be one of the most difficult, volatile years for the summer jobs program. The statistics already paint a bleak picture.
Of the 17,000 youths registered, only 3,679 of them have received their assignments for the summer. Of those 17,000 about 10,000 are economically disadvantaged youths, according to the D.C. Department of Employment Services.
The city is also lagging behind in its job commitments, with only 17,227 job pledges to date. The city is aiming for 20,000 jobs.
In addition, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, which has been trying to find 2,500 additional jobs in the private sector, so far has only 1,853 commitments. The board is extending its jobs drive by a week to next Friday.
Despite the problems, students begin lining up at 8:30 a.m. every day of the week outside the doors of the miniemployment centers in each of the city's high schools to register for a job. Many of those who come are young mothers, according to one job counselor at Ballou High School at fourth and trenton Streets, SE.
Many of the junior high school students cut classes to register at their local high schools since no employment centers are located in the junior high schools. They are hopeful that this year, as in the past, they can get a job and earn enough money to buy their clothes and school supplies for the upcoming year.
"I think we're just fooling these kids. We're building up false expectations," said Lloyd Williams, assistant principal at Ballou, which houses one of the busiest employment centers in the city.
While many of the youths seem unaware of the reduction in the summer jobs program, over the past few weeks more and more teen-agers have been organizing to make their complaints known.
One such youth is Brian Boddie, 16, of the coalition for a United Southeast. "The man upstairs has said there are going to be 20,000 jobs. But there are 50,000 youths in Washington eligible to work," said Boddie after he and other youths met with Mayor Marion Barry last week. "This means that there are 30,000 who are not going to have jobs, who are going to be out robbing the ones who do have jobs."
One of the most common criticisms of this year's program is a new regulation requiring youths to bring their parents with them when they come to register for a job. The parents must sign a form attesting to the family income.
D.C. employment services officials said this is a federal Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) regulation, which they were forced to institute.
CETA is financing 10,919 jobs, strictly for economically disadvantaged youths. The D.C. government is financing an additional 7,300 jobs which will go to youths regardless of famly income on a first-come, first-served basis. CETA studied the D.C. program in the past and found that too many youths who were not disadvantaged were getting the jobs.
Many youth officials have complained that the new regulation has prevented a large number or youths from getting their applications in early -- if at all. The Department of Employment Services has on hand about 1,300 "incomplete applications" on which all the information is in order, except for the required parent's signature.
"I fought [the regulation], believe me, I fought it," said John Anderson, the job program's director this year.
Although the federal rule merely asks for the parent's signature on the registration form, Anderson has so far refused to allow students to take the form home to their parents to be signed and instead has required parents to appear at an employment center.
A few weeks ago, employment services began holding registrations on Mondays and Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. so working parents could come in with their children.
But on one recent night in the Cardozo area off 14th Street NW only about 15 youths showed up to register and none brought their parents. As a result, one jobs counselor complained that the night sessions are just a waste of money to the city since only a few youths have signed up and the counselors get paid about $30 an evening for working overtime.
Only youths whose families are on public assistance do not have to bring in their parents, since their family income can be checked through the city welfare rolls.
"It's as though they're rewarding people for being on welfare," one job counselor said.
Ironically, city officials had promised this would be a year of vast improvements in the jobs program after a disastrous 1979. A congressional investigation revealed that last year some youths were paid late, underpaid or overpaid. Some city agencies received more youths than they had requested. Other organizations got fewer than they wanted.
Some youths were paid to learn to play musical instruments or soccer and other games during the work day. Others employed were either too young or too old to be in the program, which is limited to 14 to 21-year-olds.
This year, the city's employment services department hired a new team to work on eliminating those problems.
The payroll system will be centralized and computerized to make it easier for the city to hand out paychecks to the youths.
When a youth is given a job, he will receive an identification number that matches his job number. This process will enable youths to be matched with specific jobs, labor officials say, to avoid the problem of too many youths showing up for work at the same agency.
Most of the youths are given clerical, maintenance, day care or recreation jobs. But a chronic complaint from the youths last year was that they had little to do at their jobs.
To avoid this occurring again, employment services is requiring prospective employers to fill out a more detailed form this year to describe what kind of jobs the youths will be doing and how they will be supervised.
Agencies that will be providing out-door work have been asked what alternative duties the agency plans to give the youngsters when it rains.
But even this attempted improvement has led to a problem.
Anderson said many employers -- both in the government and private sector -- resent the longer forms and this may be one reason why they have been slow in coming up with jobs. "We may have to make the packet shorter next year," he said.
Those familiar with the jobs program say there still are many recurring kinks in it that which city officials seem unwilling to address.
Mary Beyer of the D.C. Coalition for Youth and other critics of the jobs program complain that each year the city starts lining up jobs and registering youngsters too close to the June date when the program is to start.
"It was not until the end of May that a lot of the community-based organizations received their packets" of forms for requesting the number of youths they want to hire, Beyer said.
"Registration should start when the kids come back to school in September," one job counselor said. "They should start lining up jobs in September, not March. And they should start [informing youths of where they will be working in the summer] between January and June."
This job counselor, who like others asked not to be identified, stated that youths often have to go to several different sites in the city to register and then get their job placement. "We must miss 50 percent of the students. They get so frustrated over what they have to do to get a job," he said.
Beyer said she had little hope that the jobs this year will be "more meaningful" than last year.
"I'm afraid the pressure of not having enough jobs this year is obscuring the issue of providng quality jobs," she said.