Washington — An article of faith with ronald Reagan is that the private economic sector -- not government -- should be the prime source of jobs. His plan to quickly abolish the "public sector employment" portion of CETA is a clear sign that he intends to act forcefully in this direction.
The federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973 (CETA) was an attempt to help those hardest hit by the country's mid-1970s economic troubles. "Countercyclical" aid to big cities brought a new form of "government as the employer of last resort."
But in the view of many critics, CETA jobs were make- work, dead-end positions or politically abused by local officials, not a first step for the hard-core jobless toward private employment, as had been intended.
With this in mind, Reagan's "Program for Economic Recovery" calls for abolishing some 300,000 CETA jobs by Sept. 30 of this year. By quickly phasing out the $3.7 billion-a-year program, the administration hopes to save $1 billion this year and $17 billion over the next four years.
Opposition can be expected from city officials and labor unions. CETA provides 1,600 city jobs in San Francisco and 11,500 in New York City, for example. Other cities facing financial difficulties also have come to rely on CETA to cover part of their payroll.
In Atlanta, some 800 CETA workers have helped the city's 19,000 unemployed by operating day-care centers, "meals on wheels" for the elderly, and neighborhood service centers. Now, those jobs will be eliminated.
"At best, it will be two-to-three years before the private sector can pull itself together," complains Atlanta CETA director Aaron Turpeau.
"We think it's a bad decision," said AFL- CIO economist Markley Roberts. However, Mr. Roberts acknowledges that "there is strong sentiment in Congress against the CETA program," that it "will be hard to find people on the Hill to go to bat for it."
According to a recent Washington Post- ABC News poll, 70 percent of Americans want CETA funding left at the same level or increased.
Nonetheless, the country's mayors seem to sense that the days of CETA are about over. The US Conference of Mayors recently issued a "national urban investment plan" that calls for "employment and training block grants to replace the current CETA structure."
"CETA is not one of our highest priorities," concurs National League of Cities spokesman Randy Arndt, who notes that many officials have found the reporting and administrative aspects of the program particularly troublesome. "I doubt that there are many local officials expecting to see the public-service jobs portion of CETA remaining well into the future."
What they are more concerned about is whether the new administration will succeed in creating 3 million new jobs by 1986 (as it predicts) with its budget, taxing, and deregulation program.
"That's something we're very interested in and eager to work with them on," said Mr. Arndt.
Local officials also are hopeful, if still unclear, over the prospects for increased job- training programs under the Reagan administration.
"Training programs are clearly more cost effective than public-service employment," says Sen. Dan Quayle (R) of Indiana, echoing the President's 281 -page economic recovery program. Mr. Quayle chairs the Senate subcommittee that has jurisdiction over CETA.
Two other jobs programs -- the Young Adult Conservation Corps and the Young Conservation Corps -- also are scheduled to be terminated as part of the Reagan economic program. Elimination of these "costly and poorly targeted" programs, as the administration calls them, would save the federal government $238 million next year and $1.3 billion through 1986.
The programs provide only about 450 jobs a year per state, and those young people currently employed will be able to finish their jobs are scheduled.
There is not expected to be much opposition to these cuts because, as the AFL-CIO's Mr. Roberts says, "the constituency for both those programs is l ess than that for the public-service [CETA] program."