What the White House hopes for in the '80s to spur teen employment

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The youth employment picture, especially in urban areas, is out of focus. The problem is not a temporary one, but will continue throughout the '80s and into the '90s unless something is done to clear youth's blurry image.

Speaking at a recent conference held in boston entitled Urban Youth Employment: Industry's Challenge to the '80s, Stuart E. Eizenstat, assistant to President Carter for domestic affairs and policies, called the youth job scene "one of the worst domestic problems we have."

Quoting the findings of a study done by his office, Mr. Eizenstat divided the problem into four main areas:

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* The youth employment picture is worsening.

In Boston, an estimated 35 percent of all minority teens are unemployed. In New York City high schools, 45 percent of all students drop out before graduation. The situation will not get any better as the number of students decreases in the 1980s because of reduced birthrates earlier. Actual numbers may decline, but percentages will remain the same, Mr. Eizenstat maintained.

* There is a basic skills gap that prevents many willing workers from obtaining responsible positions.

Many, especially minority students, are graduating from high school minus basic reading, writing, and mathematical abilities.

* The increasing complexity of society -- the importance of technology and computers -- means more white-collar jobs requiring higher levels of education, and fewer blue-collar jobs more suitable to high school graduates. Once, again, this trend especially hurts minority young people.

* The proportion of working-age women in the paid labor forces has increased 16 percent since World War II. More working women means a greater labor supply and increased competition among young graduates.

Mr. Eizenstat argued that these trends highlight the importance of President Carter's Youth Employment and Demonstrations Project Act of 1977 and the updated Youth Act of 1980, which is pending in the Senate.

These problems, he said, can be solved through adherence to both of these programs. "The main cause of our problems," he said, "is the separation of school and the workplace. If the two were tied together -- as is the case in Europe, particularly Germany -- we would be seeing students staying in school and training for employment."

The Youth Act is basically a consolidation and update of the 1977 act. It allots an additional $2 billion to the annual $4 billion allocation provided by the earlier measure. The money will be used as an incentive to private businesses -- especially small ones -- to hire both high school students and dropouts.

The catch is that these students must stay in school to retain their jobs, or , if they have already dropped out, they must either return to school of work for an equivalency degree.

While starting off as work-study students, it is hoped that the youths when they graduate could be moved into permanent full-time jobs. The advantages to subscribing industries include tax credits, government money to help train and place students, and the rewards of training "the eager students" for positions specially suited to the company's needs. "What we are doing," Mr. Eizenstat summarized, "is providing financial incentives to the private sector for the employment of young people."

"These kids want to work," said William Spring, associate director for employment and member of the domestic policy staff in the White House. "And private industry wants good employees. The problem is we're a long ways from implementing the program as it should be implemented."

Mr. Spring admitted that there are problems in directing the program. "The planning should not be done by the federal government, but by schools and employers on a local level.But it's just not catching on the way we had hope."

He cited a lack of employment opportunities in many areas. "Boston youths are luckier because of all the new training fields opening up in the area. There is a real potential for students and graduates to do good with all the industry around." But in other areas, where unemployment is a real problem, or where the only jobs open to younger people are pushing brooms or flipping burgers, the federally sponsored employment program just hasn't had the desired effects.

Catherine Stratton, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council Inc., is "disappointed" at what she called a negligent response in the private sector in taking advantage of the program. "It's up to all the private employers out there to make a move." Private industry wants good employees, she said. Yet they are reluctant to hire the under-25 crowd.

"I think a mutual distrust still extists," said Mr. Spring. The employers are afraid that the young employees will be irresponsible or flippant about their jobs. The youths are reluctant to commit themselves. Also, they fear disrespect and mistreatment from their superiors.

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