IT WON'T BE long before schools close for the summer, sending a stream of eager young jobseekers out in search of work. This year, these youths will need all the help they can get. The government has a new tax lure to encourage employers to hire some young people who would otherwise face the bleakest prospects of all.

Although economic indicators continue to improve, the good news has only begun to trickle to the unemployed. With millions of adults still seeking work, graduates and students on summer vacation will face stiff competition. Many employers of seasonal operations, like amusement parks, are reserving some jobs normally held by young people for older workers who have been without work. That's sensible and kind-hearted. But many youths depend on summer earnings for their continued education. What's needed is encouragement for employers to expand their hiring.

One obvious place for expansion is local government. The federal government will be providing funds for summer job programs as in previous years, and many of these will, as usual, be in local public agencies. But the administration has cut back on public job programs and it is philosophically opposed to any expansion of such programs. That leaves the private sector to take up the slack.

Private employers who are struggling to get back on their feet may feel that they are in no position to take on any extra workers. But, if they are willing to make a small investment in helping some needy kids, the government is willing to pick up most of the tab. Last summer, Congress expanded the Targeted Jobs Tax Credit so that employers could-- with the help of the local employment service-- claim tax credits equal to 85 percent of the first $3,000 in wages paid to 16- or 17-year-olds from low-income families during the summer months. That means that an employer could hire such a youth for a net cost of as little as 50 cents an hour.

The expanded tax credits won't do any good if, as has frequently been the case, they simply become tax windfalls for employers or if employers simply substitute 16- and 17-year-olds for older workers. And a tax credit can't expand an employer's need for workers--only more customers can. But if employers in this and other cities would look around and see if there isn't space for a few extra youths desperately in need of work, they could do a lot of good--and at a very low cost to themselves.