THERE WAS GOOD news and there was bad news from the Labor Department the other day. The good news was that 44 percent of the first group of workers losing their CETA public jobs had found other employment. The bad news, not mentioned in the department's press release, was that, despite the administration's commitment to ease the impact of the CETA job phase-out, this record is no better than that normally achieved by CETA jobholders with no special assistance.

CETA was never intended to provide permanent jobs for the hard-to-employ. It was meant to provide a toehold in the labor market for people who lacked the skills, experience and credentials needed to move on to better employment. To make sure that the program worked that way, Congress in 1978 set an 18-month limit on CETA participation, sharply restricted CETA wages and began to phase in requirements that workers receive training and placement assistance to help them find permanent jobs.

Even without these improvements in place, workers rarely lingered in CETA jobs. The average stay was nine or 10 months. The continuing survey of CETA participants run by the Labor Department over the last several years shows that more than 50 percent of CETA workers found other jobs shortly after they left the program. Another 20 percent found jobs subsequently. Others entered the military or training, and some left the labor force for other reasons. At the end of two years, only 15 percent of CETA public job "graduates" were still unemployed.

The job-finding experience of the people whose CETA jobs were recently terminated will, no doubt, also improve over time. About 20 percent of them, moreover, have been placed, at least temporarily, in training under CETA or other programs. The experience of these people is not, however, any measure of the real impact of the cuts in CETA job and training programs. These can only be measured in terms of the experiences of the other job-seekers who formerly would have had a chance at the CETA jobs and training positions vacated in due course by the previous holders. They will now be competing with the former CETA jobholders in a generally weak labor market from which will be permanently missing not just the 350,000 CETA jobs and about 25. percent of CETA training positions, but many other state and local government jobs as well that will disappear under the impact of cuts in other federally aided programs.

It is fine and praiseworthy to make every effort to help those hit first by budget cuts as the administration is doing. This is true even if those efforts are not markedly successful. But when you find a job or training slot for a CETA displaced person, you are denying that same place to another of the many hard-pressed job-seekers who have not been helped at all. Shuffling the deck of the unemployed is no substitute for real efforts to increase skills, opportunities and employment.