Jobs for tomorrow

Amid all the furor and debate in Washington over the makeup of the new jobs program that will replace CETA when it expires Oct. 1, there is evidence that many of the most pressing questions are still not being fully addressed by either the White House or lawmakers.

The issue is not one of just funding jobs and retraining programs, both of which were undertaken by CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) and are still necessary in an economy with unemployment hovering around 9 percent.

Rather, there is a responsibility to ensure that whatever new programs are enacted (l) provide training for and access to ''emerging'' industries, such as high technology and services, as opposed to declining manufacturing industries; (2) reach individuals most requiring federal support and not just those who happen to reside in areas where congressional clout is pronounced; and (3) grapple with factors that bar or inhibit employment, such as the impact of the minimum wage on teenagers and union and industry collusion resulting in hiring discrimination.

Contending that CETA is a ''failure,'' the administration is proposing a new on-the-job training programs and education programs worked out in tandem with local industries. While a small percentage of the total funding would go to retrain persons of all ages who have lost jobs, the focus would be primarily on disadvantaged young people.

The administration's contention that CETA is a failure is belied by the evidence. One person who has testified that CETA programs have worked is William S. Edgerly, who, as president of the State Street Bank and Trust Company of Boston, could hardly be considered an apologist for cost-ineffective programs. Mr. Edgerly and David Mundel, jobs director for the city of Boston, point out that over 70 percent of last year's graduates from Boston's CETA training program received unsubsidized private industry jobs, earning an average of $5.36 an hour. What is especially instructive is that the Boston-area economy is as much geared to new high-technology industries and service jobs as to older manufacturing employment.

Unfortunately, federal job programs funds too often tend to flow to larger states with major urban areas and high unemployment rates. But a landmark study by John Cogan of the Hoover Institution suggests that there has been a significant black youth unemployment problem in the rural South - particularly in the largely agricultural area stretching from East Texas to Virginia where 44 percent of the population is black.

High rural minority youth unemployment, however, may have been hidden by low overall unemployment rates in these Southern states, where public sector jobs have remained largely closed to blacks.

The Hoover Institution analysis would seem to add weight to the view that lawmakers should be far more selective in identifying the geographical areas where job programs are necessary, as well as the nature and extent of such programs.

The severity of the cutbacks in jobs programs (from a high of $5.8 billion in 1978, for example, to $2 billion in the current fiscal year, to the proposed new training programs be fashioned to reach those individuals most needing them, and be geared to jobs as well as industries that will last.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.