Summertime, Jobless Time

WORK experience is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty and crime for inner-city youth. But job opportunities are in short supply this summer. Across the United States, agencies that help teenagers find summer employment have huge waiting lists. New York's employment commissioner has 18,000 kids standing in line for openings. Detroit has 5,200 positions available and 20,000 applicants.

Private organizations like the New York City Partnership, which embraces more than 100 companies, have done outstanding work over the years in generating summer jobs. While the partnership counts on finding 45,000 positions for young New Yorkers this summer, that's down almost 8,000 from two years ago. Belt-tightening by firms leaves less room for entry-level jobs.

Government programs could take up some of the slack, and Congress should waste no time in passing an urban-aid package that includes jobs programs targeted at youth. For the short term, many teens could be put to work in social-service, clean-up, maintenance, and repair areas and paid through public funds.

For the long term, nothing can substitute for expanded opportunity in the private sector. Here, adequate preparation for work is a key. The federal Job Corps program has spent 27 years preparing inner-city youths for productive work. The corps gives participants, many of whom have failed in school and are devoid of hope, intensive training over eight months. This kind of direct, personal attention is indispensable.

Congress is weighing a plan to add 50 new Jobs Corps centers to the 108 that already exist. Yes, it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but it will probably save at least as much in future welfare and law-enforcement costs.

Federal aid is only one ingredient in solving the problem of unemployed youth. But it symbolizes a national commitment to instill hope in countless young lives.

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