THE ECONOMIC recession now in progress will
add new burdens for some groups already in serious labor market trouble. Last month unemployment among black and other non-white teen-agers stood at 37.5 percent. Almost 70,000 fewer such youths held jobs than did a year earlier. Joblessness among minority youths has reached a level where it is unlikely to be reduced significantly simply by the return of a more buoyant economy--welcome as that would be.
The number of minority youths will continue to climb over the next decade. The coming drop of several million in the number of white youths could open up more opportunities for minorities--if these youths have the needed skills and access to these jobs. An increasing number of minority youths can be expected to find good jobs in coming years if higher education continues to increase among minorities. But dropout rates in inner-city schools remain high, and those who graduate often lack the basic skills and work habits that employers want.
Better schools would help, but schools alone can't end the isolation of many students from even the example, much less the firsthand experience, of what work is all about. In Europe, this gap is generally filled by apprenticeship and other vocational programs. In this nation, the typical pattern is the after-school or summer job--something that is increasingly hard to find in central cities.
The Carter administration's efforts to combat youth unemployment were not without success-- the entire increase in minority teen-age employment during that period is probably directly attributable to the special youth job programs. Some of the projects-- especially those that set clear standards of performance and that mixed work and education--reduced dropout rates and improved subsequent job and academic success. But even with huge wage subsidies, most employers remained reluctant to take a chance on hiring low-income minority youth.
Congress saved some youth job programs from the first round of budget cuts--though at the expense of other training programs. The programs, however, are targeted by the administration for further cuts this year and likely extinction the next.
Abandoning a large and growing number of young people to almost certain failure in the job market is neither an acceptable social policy nor a wise economic choice. The country will need all the skilled workers it can find over the next decade. With a sharply diminished federal interest, schools and businesses must take up the slack. It is an encouraging sign for the District, at least, that some of the candidates for the coming school board elections have concrete plans for involving both local and national businesses directly in the D.C. school system. Much will depend on whether big-city schools can do better in helping their students make that first vital connection between school and a steady job.