Theresa Seevers is a 20-year-old unemployed single mother. She lives with her boyfriend and five of his relatives in a rundown row house in Baltimore's gritty Pigtown, a neighborhood of stoops and bars and railroad tracks.
"If you're not employed," she said, "you can't put the blame on anybody but yourself. I look at myself," she added: "It's my fault."
In popular caricature, people with backgrounds and problems like Seevers' naturally look to the government for help -- for training, jobs and other social programs. But she and other unemployed young people interviewed in Baltimore this month seem to embrace the Reagan era's up (or down)-by-your-own-bootstraps philosophy of individual initiative.
These unemployed and often undereducated young people do not demand or expect much help from their government. They do not feel cheated or wronged. In contrast to young people in past generations, they respect authority. They admire and feel close to their parents.
At the same time, they do not see much reason to take an interest in what government does, and they doubt their power to change policies they dislike.
"I never really got into politics or anything like that," Seevers said. "That's up to the president and all the people in government ." Since she knows nothing about anybody running for office, she does not vote. "I figure I'll just leave that up to everybody else," she said.
While some of those interviewed had a vague sense that they have been hurt by the budget cuts of the "Reagan Revolution," they see no need to speak out about it.
"We don't feel a need to be heard," said Edith Thompson, 24, a west Baltimore mother who gave up welfare benefits last week when she found a job as a restaurant cashier. "I'm not interested in politics; I'm just interested in making it myself."
These young people tend to judge themselves and their peers harshly, placing responsibility for their problems not on parents, schools or society, but on their own mistakes. But with little education and no marketable skills, they feel unequipped to move into the job market.
Gerald Taylor is an organizer for BUILD, a Baltimore alliance of church officials and teachers that tries to keep young people in school and help them get jobs. Two decades ago, he said, the antiwar and civil rights movements gave young people a sense of kinship, a "connectedness" with one another that created a healthy generational identity.
There are no common goals among young people now, he said, and no feeling of allegiance toward their own age group. Poor and unemployed young people see no cause for dissent. "There's a passive acceptance by people of their condition," Taylor said. "They're seen as failures, and it's seen as their fault."
Seevers said she regrets quitting school and having a baby at 17. "My mom always tried to tell me what was right, but I was hardheaded and had to learn for myself." Now, she said, "I respect her a lot more."
Seevers, a shy, soft-spoken woman who dropped out of school in the 11th grade, left her home town of Perry Hall in Baltimore County two months ago to be with her boyfriend in the city. She fights tears when she talks about how she misses her 2-year-old son, Joshua, who is staying in Perry Hall with his grandmother until Seevers finds a job and "gets her feet on the ground." Simple Goal Seems Distant
Ultimately, she said, "I want the typical dream -- a house, children, a husband." But she said she believes that simple goal, reasonable in another era, is a long way off for young people in her situation. If she and her boyfriend, a construction laborer, do not get married as planned this summer, Seevers said she thinks there is a job waiting for her at Kentucky Fried Chicken in Perry Hall.
That pessimism and uncertainty carry over to Seevers' view of the world. For example, she said she fears that there will be a nuclear war, "but there really isn't too much we can do about it." She is more bothered by the thought now that she has a child. "I want him to grow up and experience life before the world goes," she said.
Other young people worry about war, too, and, since the U.S. raid on Libya, some said they have started to fear they will be drafted to fight a war in the Middle East.
"Reagan's trying to start some type of war," said William Meekins, 19. Meekins said he and friends, who live in a tough, predominantly black section of south Baltimore, have for the first time begun to worry about terrorism and the U.S. response to it. "We've been talking about that for the past couple of weeks," he said. "People are taking it a bit more serious."
Edith Thompson, 24, also said she fears that President Reagan will get the United States involved in a war, and she regrets not going to the polls to vote against him. But most young people she knows aren't interested in government or world affairs, she said. "I think people my age just don't care, they're just interested in themselves."
Thompson said that her peers, unlike people of her parents' generation, are largely uninterested in building strong families or helping their communities: Drugs and materialism are their only devotions, she said. She is critical of her own choices as well.
Thompson dropped out of school in the 12th grade and has two daughters, ages 3 and 5. Her marriage to a serviceman failed after a year, and she recently moved back to her parents' home, a large well-kept row house on a side street a few blocks from one of the city's violence-scarred high-rise housing projects.
"I wanted my marriage to last as long as my mother's. She's married 28 years, and she's happy," Thompson said. Her mother, who reared six children while working as a housekeeper in downtown hotels, has energy and ambition Thompson envies.
"She's sickly," said Thompson, "but she cannot sit still -- she'll pull two or three jobs just because she wants to work."
Thompson said she too wants to be self-sufficient. She would like to earn a high-school equivalency diploma and become a secretary. "I wish I could go back to high school and finish up that last year -- I'd jump on the chance," she said.
Thompson, Meekins and other unemployed young blacks said they rarely discuss civil rights issues and do not feel that they have been held back because of race. In fact, adults who work with them say young people of all races -- even those who are disadvantaged -- seem remarkably satisfied with the status quo.
"Nobody's anti-establishment anymore," said Frank Thomas, principal of Baltimore's Patterson High School, which serves a large part of the inner city.
Thomas' practice of carefully explaining to the student council reasons for any changes in school policies seems unnecessary now, he said -- the administration is rarely challenged. "They don't question authority as much as they did in the '60s and '70s," he said. "They're more docile today."
The '80s young people of Baltimore's working class are likely to encounter difficulty attaining even the modest financial success of their parents. Many of the mills and factories that historically have been the lifeblood of the city's economy are closing, reflecting the national shift away from manufacturing to a service-based economy. Limited Choices in Job Market
For young people such as Robert Wiley and George Levandowski, that change means the well-paying union jobs of their fathers' generation are disappearing. In their place are minimum-wage jobs at fast-food restaurants -- jobs that many young people shun because they pay so little and offer limited chance for advancement.
Wiley, 18, and his close friend Levandowski, 20, both said they would "take anything," but they are looking for jobs as laborers -- work they believe will give them experience for better-paying jobs in the future. Levandowski said he would eventually like to get a job in a warehouse, as his father did, loading trucks. Wiley wants to become a truck driver.
Like nearly half of those who enter Baltimore's public school system and like 30 percent of young people nationally, Wiley and Levandowski are dropouts. Like many other young people interviewed for this article, they said they intend to earn Graduate Equivalency Diplomas to make themselves more attractive to employers.
"After I get my GED, it'll probably be different," Levandowski said. Still, he is worried that some factory or warehouse jobs will be closed to him because he has had aplastic anemia. "I got cured from it," he said, "but I can't work around no toxic chemicals."
The two young men are considered "straight arrows" in their southwest Baltimore neighborhood; their peers think they are "not cool enough," said Levandowski, because they don't drink or use drugs.
"They don't want to hang with us 'cause they think we'll snitch on 'em or something," Wiley said. Being young a decade or two ago "would have been more fun," he said. Then, "You didn't have to do drugs to have friends."
Levandowski, who left school two years ago, feels that he must find work soon. "You need to have a job to have something to do. Otherwise you stay home all day, sleep all day. You get tired of doing the same thing."
Both men are discouraged about their prospects and express concern about the drug use, teen-age pregnancy and high unemployment that blights their neighborhood. But they do not look beyond their immediate experience or blame government or society for those problems. They said they know little about politics and are unsure of their opinions.
"We rely on what other people say," Wiley said. "We don't know what's really going on out in the world . . . . There's a lot of old people in our neighborhood and we'll sit and talk with them."
Said Levandowski: "The outside world now, it's a lot rougher. We just need something to start us off, to get us going. Then we'll be all right."