AS part of its effort to help America's inner cities, the Clinton administration has proposed doubling funds for youth summer jobs.
The $2 billion program would put 1.3 million disadvantaged youths to work. In announcing the plan this week, Labor Secretary Robert Reich said careful monitoring would minimize "make-work" so that youths learn valuable skills.
"The United States is developing a third world within its own borders, in many of our central cities, where a growing number of uneducated Americans are only tenuously connected to the national economy," Mr. Reich said.
In addition to summer jobs, President Clinton's urban agenda includes proposals for tax-advantaged "enterprise zones" and community development banks.
While some experts laud the move to expand the summer-jobs program, others say the administration should emphasize private-sector job-creation.
Clinton has called for the private sector to voluntarily match the 1.3 million youth jobs to be created under his plan.
"A lot of firms look on it as a civic duty" to employ high school students in the summer, says Carlos Bonilla, economist with the Employment Policies Institute, a research group in Washington. But he says some White House plans would make it tougher for employers to provide such jobs, much less the permanent entry-level jobs sought by youths who are not college bound.
The White House, for example, is expected to seek a hike in the minimum wage from its current level of $4.25 an hour - a move that would discourage hiring, Mr. Bonilla says. Even a modest, 10-percent hike in the minimum wage could reduce employment by 1 or 2 percent, based on historical patterns, he says.
Moreover, the president's forthcoming health-care reform plans may include requiring businesses to expand health benefits, an additional disincentive to hiring, Bonilla says.
The summer-jobs program offers needed opportunity to inner-city youths, says Demetra Nightingale, a senior researcher at the Urban Institute in Washington. "What they want is jobs," she says, and there is a dearth of private-sector posts.
The Clinton program, while sending more money to all eligible localities, would target much of its increase to the 100 cities with the largest number of disadvantaged young people.
TYPICAL jobs in the program include clerical work at city agencies, maintenance work at public properties, recreation work at parks, and day care. Reich says that increased oversight in recent years has reduced make-work jobs to perhaps 15 percent of the total.
"If it's make-work we won't send them," says Frank Milone, training director at the New Haven Area Private Industry Council, which dispersed $1.1 million in federal summer-job funds last year in Connecticut. Similar agencies across the country helped line up jobs for 770,000 young people last summer. "We feel that the jobs that kids have are a meaningful work experience," Mr. Milone says.
"I'm somewhat leery of these programs," Bonilla says, contending that the federal subsidies give municipalities little incentive to instill disciplined work habits. A city agency, he says, will be unlikely to fire someone who does not show up on time, for example.
A Labor Department audit of summer jobs found "inadequate controls over time and attendance." But to pan the program because of its problems, Reich says, would be "like condemning the school lunch program because it doesn't end malnutrition."
The labor secretary is keenly aware that the private-sector job market is growing more demanding; in a recent book he highlights the widening gap between people with high skills and high wages and the less-educated who cannot get good jobs.
The Clinton plan would put $300 million of the new money toward education that would occur alongside the summer jobs. Typically young people regress a third of a grade level during the summer break, the Labor Department says.